Canada - another kind of safari
Posted 30 October 2011 - 01:26 PM
The first day was all about getting there. Thalys train to Schiphol airport, then a direct flight to Vancouver with Air Transat, picking up the rental car, and then getting it on the ferry to Vancouver Island.
About Air Transat; we booked way in advance and paid 50€ extra per person to get seats with more leg room. These seats were right behind 1st class. Well… the leg room was OK, but the seats were so small that we could barely fit in. Our shoulders were wider than the width of one seat. This meant that on a row of three seats, there was at least always one person (sometimes two) who had to sit with his back away from the seat so that the rest could sit as intended. I sat near the window and had an extra problem; I was constantly hitting the side of the airplane with my head. It was the worst flight I ever had. And it lasted 10 hours.
Better write this now; our return flight had idem layout (and we paid extra again for idem seats), so we feared the worst. But that plane was obviously bigger, and that time the seats were OK. So it's clear that Air Transat is operating at least two planes with an identical seat-layout, but they cannot afford the two correct planes.
Bottom line; avoid at all cost! Since KLM is to be avoided as well (my count is 3 serious problems on 6 flights), I'd say: if you need a direct flight from Europe's mainland to Vancouver, maybe try Delta.
About the rental car; I rented a Chrysler Suburban, as it had to fit 6 people and their luggage (we were there with my parents, and my parents in law). Rental company was Hertz. I wasn't sure it would all turn out OK. You rent a car but then get to read it can be a "similar car". And there was no way of contacting the local Hertz desk at Vancouver airport to get more info about the car.
One thing they did warn about is that the car had no GPS. This was very strange, as the car was definitely the "full-option" version. Well, except that GPS then. Luckily I found a guy in St-Niklaas (Belgium) who, as a side-business (started as a hobby), rents out GPS's with American/Canadian maps for 10€ per week.
I only relaxed when I finally had the steering wheel of the car in my hands; it was the car I booked! Next problem is that it was an automatic. I'd never driven one! But fortunately that is simple enough. Still… one thing I never got used to is the way the car handled gears. On a flat road it would sit in the gear that's the most economic. Like 1000rpm or so. Then when the road went uphill, I'd push the gas pedal a bit, as I would do with a regular car. Just to keep my speed. But the car almost always refused to do what I wanted it to do. Instead of keeping it's speed, it tried to keep the same rpm. Only when I pushed the pedal hard, I could get the car to move. It's as if I woke the car up from it's sleep. It would then immediately go two gears down (not just one!) to get more torque, and after 10 sec take one gear up again. The effect was that my family in the back would holler every time the car roared to life. I ended up putting it in M, which is a mode where you can control the gears a bit. That worked better. But the question remains then; why an automatic if the only way to use it in a comfortable way is by still switching gears manually?
So; I learned to drive an automatic car while driving from the airport to the ferry. Luckily it was all highway and not that busy (early afternoon). And our GPS worked flawlessly, so that was very welcome as well. Next I learned the exact size of our boat-on-wheels by getting it on the ferry. That first onramp was a bit of an adventure, lol.
We arrived with beautiful weather and so we really enjoyed the views from the ferry. A very flat and very blue sea. A steel blue sky. And mountains with snowy peaks in the far distance. One less positive point was the food on board. We had hoped to find something else than that lousy airplane food, but all they had was a fast food restaurant. Oh well.
By the time we arrived on Vancouver Island it was dark, so I had to drive to our first B&B in the dark. Plus I was getting rather tired. We had been awake for almost 24 hours by then. Luckily the GPS helped. But I did I miss the entrance to the B&B the first time. Luckily Mira spotted it the 2nd time we passed it. (it wasn't the last time we missed the B&B signs, so message to all B&B owners; please make your signs bigger and light them better!)
Our first B&B was Graycliff Cottage near Nanaimo. See: their home page for more info. Our host was Warren. He had two "garden rooms" that were in a separate building that also hosted his garage, and two more rooms in the main building. One was cheaper and kinda in the basement so we hadn't rented that one. Our parents took the two rooms in the garden, we took the other one. The rooms looked beautiful and had all you could wish for. But it was too dark to make out the surroundings. Not that it mattered much. I think we were all asleep before our heads hit the pillow.
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:12 PM.
Posted 30 October 2011 - 01:33 PM
The next day we woke up and it was already light. So I opened the blinds and… my jaw hit the tablet of the window. The view was stunning. We washed and dressed asap and just went outside to sit in the seats on the lawn, waiting for the others to come. Soon afterwards they started to show up, and they all had the same reaction as us. It's moments like this that remind us how ugly our own country is.
Warren served us a breakfast of kings, with fresh fruit, pancakes with maple syrup, bacon and eggs, etc… We regained our strength in no time, and had already forgotten the long day before. In fact, we were all so high-spirited that we decide to go down to the beach for another view of the surroundings. That meant; 5 stories down (wooden steps) and then back up. Up went a little slower, but be blamed our heavy tummies full of bacon and eggs, lol
We would have liked to stay longer, but we had quite a drive ahead of us, all the way north of the island. This would become our motto throughout the trip; "I wish we could stay longer".
Our end destination was Port McNeill that day. But to get there we first needed to buy a few things. Most important was a cooler and cooling elements. We found that at a Wall Mart in Lantzville . And almost equally important was filling it up with food and drinks. We got that right next door at another store of which I forgot the name. One thing we noticed immediately; no alcohol for sale in a regular food store. Just like in US I guess. Quite different where we come from. Our dads found that annoying, as it meant a separate stop to buy a few bears or a bottle of wine. That is; IF we could find a liquor store en route.
After that we started our long drive north. Our first stop was Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. We did a small walk, just to stretch our legs, and enjoyed the big trees. It was just a warm-up for things to come, nothing impressive, but fun nonetheless. Plus the weather was perfect; very sunny and warm, but just cool enough under the trees. We also had a pick nick there.
Then we drove on to Elk Falls Provincial Park. Here, the falls were really impressive. It may not be much for the locals, but they were already bigger than anything we have in Belgium. The only problem was getting a decent picture. The platform didn't go far enough along the chasm where the water plummeted into.
After that, no more stops as there was no more time to lose. So the last part was a long drive to Port McNeill. We arrived somewhere around 5-6PM at our next B&B. This one is called "At Water's Edge". This is their web page.
Here, guests get the complete ground level; four rooms next to each other. From your balcony you can walk straight to the sea. The view is equally magnificent as at the previous B&B. The owner lives on the first floor, and that's also where breakfast is served in the morning. Hosts are Chris and his wife Karen. Chris is a retired sheriff. He works on a water taxi during the day now. Karen takes care of breakfast.
The rooms were a bit smaller than in the previous B&B, and the bathroom was smaller too. But not that that mattered much. All was tip-top again. Karen found us a nice restaurant in town (we went by car but could have gone on foot). I remember the food was good, but remember little else as I was dead tired again from all that driving.
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:13 PM.
Posted 30 October 2011 - 01:54 PM
(need to split this day in two posts as we got to see too much that day)
We woke up early. Not because we were rested, but because we had to. That morning, we had to have breakfast early, and had to drive to Hidden Cove, as that is where our boat trip left. So we dragged ourselves out of bed, stumbled outside, and got this view;
Needless to say that we were wide awake rather fast. Karen had prepared breakfast, Chris was already preparing to leave for work (the taxi boat), and their daughter Megan was preparing for her first day at a new school! Breakfast was superb, yet again. Basically, you could get what you wanted (Chris noted that down the evening before).
Soon after breakfast we said our good goodbyes ("wish we could stay longer!") and drove to Hidden Cove lodge. It's not that far, about 10kms east from Port Mc Neill. Actually, our initial plan was to stay three nights at HCL and do boat trips from there, but the first night was already fully booked (even though we booked way in advance; at the end of last year). It was a long weekend so plenty of people on a short holiday. Hence why we had to stay one night in "At Water's Edge B&B" (not that we minded).
When we arrived at Hidden Cove lodge - which is a drive on gravel road for the last couple of kilometers - me and Mira were thrilled. The lodge was "in the middle of nowhere", next to a small bay. Pure nature around us. Our parents were less enthusiastic. From the outside the place looked uhm… a bit rough :-D Well what do you want with such fierce winters? They visibly relaxed once inside. Once they saw their rooms and the lounge area. Cozy!
IMPORTANT; if I post panos here; your browser may resize the panos to fit your browser window. Click on them again to enjoy them full size (well, not full size, they're still 600px height max, but you know what I mean).
For all info on Hidden Cove Lodge, see HERE. Dan, the owner is quite a character, with a wicked sense of humor that matched my own. We soon started to call each other "my ugly twin brother" and "my dumb twin brother" (or vice versa). But more on the lodge later.
Soon enough, the boat was there. We booked this trip way in advance (at the same time we booked the lodge) with a company called Mackay, because we had been told by Dan's wife that this was the best one. The boat is apparently the fastest and best equipped etc. For more info on Mackay; see their website
Again, the weather was fantastic that day. Bright blue sky, calm sea, very warm, etc. In fact, this was the warmest period they had had all summer. July and August had been awful. Lots of rain. And now they finally got their hot summer days. They hoped it would last. This particular day it was so warm that Bill, the owner, said he had a special treat for us.
He took us straight to a spot where there were plenty of pacific white-sided dolphins. We saw a few fins, then tens of them, then all-of-a-sudden there were fins all around. There must have been more than hundred of them. Incredible.
Bill said they are not always around, but now there were plenty because of the hot weather. He sped up the boat and the dolphins followed, jumping out of the water (either parallel of the boat or jumping out of the waves our engines made). They clearly liked it. I don't know for how long the dolfins followed us. I just went shutter crazy. At one moment there was one dolphin which was - I am 100% sure - giving me a private show by jumping out of the water real close to the boat, and close to where I was sitting (all the way in the back, in the corner, to get a good shot of the dolphins jumping out of the waves). Here's a few pics. I got 100s more, but I'm not sure what to do with them (blush).
(giving me "the eye" from under water:)
Time flies when you're having fun. After having spent a long time with the dolphins, we went to a place where sea lions where basking in the sun. Some were swimming around close to shore too. Nice pics again.
Then it was time for lunch. A fish soup with some bread and a soft drink, if I remember correctly. Everyone was in high spirits. But we hadn't seen any humpback whales yet! The captain - with a grin on his face - told us not to worry.
(I'll continue posting after Matt can tell me how to handle videos)
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:15 PM.
Posted 30 October 2011 - 04:32 PM
Waiting for the next time - again!!!
Posted 30 October 2011 - 04:44 PM
… clarity in thought comes after challenge …
Posted 31 October 2011 - 01:16 PM
After lunch, he took us to another spot. And there they were! One was swimming closer to us, in parallel with the boat, at about 50 meters. He/she was MASSIVE.
Now, before we left, my mother in law told me she would like to see the tail fin coming out of the water, but I told her what they told me (on the web); to not to get our hopes up too high, as that seldom happens. Mostly you only see their backs. Well, we were only following this whale for five minutes when he did this:
I can tell you; the moment he did that there were plenty of shouts of pure excitement on the boat. And while we were still discussing what we had just seen, the whale did this:
No pics I'm afraid. In fact, no one on the boat has any. The only reason we got it on film is because my dad had not switched off his camera yet, after he tried to film the fin going up. And the whale just happened to breach right at the spot where he was aiming his camera. Of course, we nicknamed him "the new Steven Spielberg" after that (and he happily played along). The captain told us we were very lucky. It was only the 2nd breach he'd seen this year.
If you think our luck ran out after that; think again. We saw plenty of humpbacks after that, including a mother and child duo. And at least five (!) more times we saw a tail fin come up of the water. And when we were slowly moving away from the spot where the whales were, one of them decided to give us one more treat.
Was he waving us goodbye?
This is of course something that you cannot show in a still picture. Note that it was a bit of a distance away from our boat, hence why you see the splash and only later hear the sound. No one knows for sure why they splash their fins on the water surface like that. But on the underwater microphones it sounded like dynamite.
Somewhere between 3 and 4PM, we were dropped off at our lodge and relaxed a bit in the sunshine. Dinner at Hidden Cove Lodge was very very good, and really too much. So no need to look for a restaurant here. Would be annoying too, as you're a bit far from civilization. Note that B&B's more often than not have no license to serve hot meals, nor to serve alcohol. But Hidden Cove is different; they are a lodge/hotel, and thus offer the same services as any other hotel would.
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:16 PM.
Posted 31 October 2011 - 01:23 PM
That day, we had booked a trip that would take us to Knight Inlet, to see the grizzly bears. This trip was arranged by a firm called Tiderip, and Dan assured us we booked the best firm for this. They have a very good reputation. For more info on what Tiderip offers, see HERE. Knight Inlet is "on the other side of the pond" (on the mainland), so the boat trip at dawn gave us spectacular views of all the missed-covered islands we passed while en route to Knight Inlet.
After an hour or so, we arrived at a pontoon where three smaller, flat-bottomed, boats were anchored. We were the first boat to arrive and from the pontoon our guide already spotted a bear. So he urged us in the smaller boat and off we went. Soon enough we reached the river mouth, and the guide switched from a regular engine to a little electric engine that was much smaller (and slower) but virtually noiseless. We glided along the river bank of an island that was sitting in the middle of the river. It was full of high grass. We got closer and closer to the bear but it was moving away from the waterfront, walking upriver. At one point we got to about 50 meters, but that is the closest the guide took us. I assume to not disturb them too much. I could take fairly good shots with my tele lens, but I pity the tourists that were in the other boats and that had arrived later.
Soon the bear slipped out of view. We went a bit further upstream, to where a bald eagle was sitting in a tree (unfortunately a bit in the shade) and where there was a "pocket" in the river that was often full of salmon. There were some in there indeed, as at one point some jumped out of the water (and back in, of course). After that, we glided downstream again, and then went up another way. Here we saw a deer that was grazing on the river bank, and a beautiful golden eagle.
By then it was time to eat, so our guide took us back to the pontoon, where a small buffet was set up for us and for the people on the other two boats. From the pontoon, you had a beautiful view of the surrounding. For the first time, we saw the typical blue-green color that you see a lot in pictures of Canadian lakes. Only this was the sea, not a lake!
Our guide said he was going to take us somewhere else in the afternoon, and look for more bears there. He was still in (radio) contact with the other boats. So if they spotted one, then we could still go back. And if we found one, we could radio them. So soon enough we were checking the shores of other small bays of Knight Inlet, but unfortunately; no bears. We did see this guy though. He was enjoying the sun as much as us I think.
We did not hear anything about the other boats, so when our guide heard that some killer whales were spotted nearby, the decision on where to go was easy. Actually, killer whales were the only animals we missed the day before. Note that the bear-watching tours and the whale-watching tours have some sort of agreement that each sticks to their own stuff; bears is bears, whales is whales. The only exception; if you happen to pass the place where an animal was, you can always check it out. We were lucky; that was the case for our Orcas. So we followed these great animals for a while, and have great shots of their fins and black-and-white bodies protruding from of the water.
On our way home, we stopped to take photographs of salmon fishers that were hauling in their catch. Our guide explained that they were only allowed to catch some salmon types, and that other types (like chinook) have to be thrown back. We waited for them to get the fish on board, and waited and waited. It was fairly obvious that they were wasting time and thatchy hoped we would go away. When we left after half an hour, they were still "acting busy". Hmmm...
Then we had a small stop at Telegraph Cove, the little port not far from where our lodge was. It has a lot of buildings standing on poles in the water (looks nice), and a small maritime museum (free). The museum is nice, actually. They have the sketeton of a whale hanging from the ceiling and you can walk underneath. We also had a drink at a bar there. Then our guide took us back to our lodge. Because of the Orcas it was another "succeeded" day, but too bad we had only seen one bear.
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:17 PM.
Posted 31 October 2011 - 01:26 PM
We had a late breakfast, together with these birds:
They were there every morning.
After a good breakfast it was time to go. A long drive ahead of us. No more time to waste. We had to drive south to Comox. That is where, in the afternoon, we had to get the ferry to the mainland. So that gave us a bit of time, but not that much either, as I had planned to drive through Campbell River (for a route that was a bit more scenic than highway 19). Plus we had to resupply in Campbell River too. We needed drinks and food for our lunches the next couple of days. We picnicked on the beach somewhere between Campbell River and Comox and then drove on. When getting our tickets for the ferry; a nice surprise. The person behind the counter asked us for our ferry-plans in the upcoming days, and apparently there was a "package deal" that fitted. This saved us about 150$. Incredible how friendly and helpful Canadians are. In my own country this is unseen.
On the ferry; nice views all around again.
At about 4PM we arrived in Powell River on the sunshine coast. We had a nice scenic drive following the shoreline eastwards (although most of the time pine trees blocked the view), and only stopped once, for a small stop at Saltery Bay Provincial Park. It's really small and there's not much to see, but it's nice to be able to dip your feet in the cold ocean water and relax a bit. We did not have that much time anyway, as we had to get our next ferry, from Saltery Bay to Earls Cove.
But first we had to find a restaurant. That proved to be quite impossible. The owner of the next B&B had told us there were restaurants in their neighborhood. But we found none at Saltery Bay. Luckily there was some kind of hamburger shack close to where the ferries left. Their menu said they had "salmon burgers". Well we never had that, so…
Argh! Only after we had sat down the woman told us they were all out. Oh well.. regular burgers it is. Not quite what we wanted for dinner though.
The short ferry ride that followed was a bit special as well. While on the ferry the sun was setting and that gave us great views again.
It was dark by the time we reached our next B&B; "A Lakeside Retreat". The B&B is real close to Earls Cove, and sits at the edge of a small lake called North Lake. At night we saw the moon reflected in it's water, but nothing more. The B&B owner is apparently very sick, so a friend of him takes care of it. She sleeps right next door, in her camper, and takes care of breakfast (well, it was a DIY thing - which given the circumstances was understandable - and she just provides us with scones, fruit, etc… in the evening. We could keep the food in our fridges overnight and then serve ourselves in the morning). That was quite alright with us. Besides, we had the whole place to ourselves, so it was great not having to wake up and have breakfast at a certain time-frame.
This lodge was truly beautiful. Made of pure wood, sitting high on the hill above the lake. And a big room and bathroom. Our room also had an old wooden stove, which made it look a bit like a place of the "pioneers". But best of all was the jacuzzi. It was on a platform one level up, where the owner normally lived, and we were allowed to use it. I can imagine that if the owner is there, perhaps the guests don't use the jacuzzi that often. But since we were there all by ourselves, we jumped right in and relaxed a bit while watching the stars in the sky. After that we hit the hay. It had been a long day for me (I do all the driving) so my eyes were tired.
For more information on this B&B, see their website here.
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:17 PM.
Posted 31 October 2011 - 01:31 PM
Another day of driving and sightseeing along the way. We slept a bit later, had our breakfast outside while enjoying the lake view. It was idyllic! The woman who kept an eye on the place told me that it was up for sale (due to the owner being very sick). Seriously; if I had the money… oh man.
After breakfast we left and drove on eastward, following the "sunshine coast". Clearly on this stretch of road were all the restaurants we were looking for last night. We stopped at Smuggler Cove Marine Provincial Park for our morning walk. It is a nice walk, partly on elevated boardwalks as this is a swampy area. We hoped to see beavers, but saw none. Probably because none of the other visitors (two families) kept their dogs on a leach. Why can't people simply adhere to park rules which are - by the way - advertised in huge letters at the entrance? Sigh… What we did see where plenty of these small snakes (about as thick as my pink finger):
Eventually the path crept away from the swamp and became more rocky. No more dead trees here, but a closed canopy above our heads. For once no pines, but all kinds of trees with regular leaves. So; lots of shade, and that's just as well as this day was going to be hot again. We're talking 30 Celcius in the sunshine or perhaps even more. We clearly were in luck with the weather. We came to a clearing and enjoyed the bay view. Blue water and steel blue sky and plenty of little islands. Time to walk back, as we had a long way ahead of us.
At midday we boarded the ferry at Langdale. It took us to Horseshoe bay, which is a bit the starting point of the "Sea to Sky highway" that takes people from Vancouver to the ski areas in the mountains. This was the nicest ferry ride of all. Perhaps because of the warm weather, but the color of the coastline, the water, the sky, and the little fluffy clouds above. Awesome. Judge for yourself:
We ate some sandwiches on the boat, to not lose more time when driving north on the highway. Our destination was Whistler, the town that hosted the Winter Olympics recently. But en route we stopped at Shannon Falls. They're quite big, and the parking lot is right next to the highway, so it's a nice stop to stretch the legs.
After that we drove straight to Whistler, dropped off our bags at the next B&B, and then drove on to the central parking lot in Whistler, which sits right next to a huge number of big hotels. In between these hotels is a car-free zone; a long walkway with plenty of restaurants, bars, etc… To us, it did not look very appealing. This is noisy "mass tourism". We were only there to take the gondola up the mountain asap, to escape the crowds and enjoy the view. We actually booked the "peak-to-peak" gondola, which apparently is the longest unsupported span in the world; a bit more than 3kms. It takes you from Whistler mountain to Blackcomb mountain and back (unless you decide to come down with the gondola on the other side). We were a bit lucky as our cabin was just the grey one, which is the one with (partly) a glass bottom.
The gondola & the view:
What you see through the glass bottom;
We liked the experience, but thought it was expensive. Oh well, it was the best thing to do. We had to throw <something> in to fill the schedule while en route to the mountains.
Our B&B that night was Chalet Luise. For more info see HERE.It was a fairlu good B&B. Rooms were great, breakfast surely above average. But the big difference with previous B&B's was the location. It was a fair bit away from the center of town, but still we heard plenty of police sirens at night etc. The DID give us good restaurant advice though; it was a restaurant that belonged to a tennis club, located away from the center as well, and the food was better than in town they said, and cheaper. It certainly was delicious, and true: it was rather cheap as well.
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:18 PM.
Posted 31 October 2011 - 01:36 PM
Canada doesn't get smaller overnight, so you guessed it; again a serious distance to cover that day. Actually; it was going to be the longest drive of all. It is a more scenic route than the big N5 highway going from Vancouver to the Rockies. This one is the N99. But it is also a much more winding and thus slower route. The first part was nice (coming out of the mountains, passing a few nice lakes). But then the area gets dryer and less green. More agriculture of course, as it's a bit flatter. It's still rocky though. But with most pine trees gone (or dead, but still standing) it soon becomes a boring ride.
We stopped at Lilooet, to get some gas, and some food & drinks from the local supermarket. It was the ugliest town we saw during our whole trip. I don't mean it's a slum, but simply nothing special. I took zero pictures, that says it all. We drove out of town, crossed the bridge and sped away on the road the other side of the valley. From there we saw that the town of
Lilooet stretched on farther than we had seen while we were in the center. Just parallel roads with old wooden houses (with weather-worn walls) going on and on. Bye bye Lilooet!
After taking a right at a T-junction, things looked nicer again. Not that road the trees were back. Just that now the view fitted with what we are used to. Here, it was grassy plains and hills with plenty of trees. And then we arrived at the far end of Kamloops lake. It was huge, and stretched all the way to Kamloops. But we could not even see the city from where we were.
After a short stop (to eat lunch) we drove to the city. Soon enough we came onto the N5 highway. Houses houses houses. All around us. Kamloops sure is big. No tall buildings though. Just big. Plenty of room to build, of course. What we also noticed by now; lots of freight trains going back and forth, and man they are looooong.
We crossed the bridge over the river in Kamloops and then immediately turned right. We wanted to visit the Indian museum. Part of it is inside, in the basement of a school building. Nice stuff to see, but the part that was outside was better; ic the half-buried huts with a roof made of wood and soil (you could walk on them). There was also a pond nearby so I snatched a couple of pics from reed birds.
Nice intermezzo, but soon enough it was time to move on. Our goal was Grey Wells Provincial Park, some 150kms further North. The park begins near a little town called Clearwater. If you take the "Clearwater Valley Road"; it follows the river and ends in the park itself. Our B&B was located on that road, right next to the park. On our way to the B&B we passed Spahats Creek Falls and had a look:
Our B&B that night was called "Clearwater Springs Ranch". It looked incredible; a house completely made out of wooden logs. Our parents slept in rooms upstairs, we had one in the basement (but with a big window to the garden, so we were closest to the jacuzzi. All rooms were fairly large, but ours was huge. We enjoyed a drink in the salon, then had a fantastic dinner, and relaxed a bit in the jacuzzi. Their website HERE.
This is how it looked;
Coming up tomorrow; more bears!
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:19 PM.
Posted 01 November 2011 - 07:06 AM
fantastic photos and a wonderful TR, thanks heaps.
Could you include at the end how you planned this trip? The accommodation looks to be of a very high standard and the wildlife so far is great. Orca, bears is there a moose on the way???
Posted 01 November 2011 - 09:15 AM
There IS a moose on the loose, yes!
To answer your question;
1) I booked the airplane seats first, without even knowing what we would do once there. Our dates were fixed anyway, and I figured there'd be plenty of choice re. lodging.
2) I surfed the web a bit, to find out what there is to see (and where). Then looked a bit deeper into who provided the best experience. In the end I made a list of "must-sees".
3) I simply used Google Maps, and displayed an area where I wanted to go. Then I made Google Maps search for "B&B".
4) Whatever popped up; I went to their home page to see what rooms they had on offer and then contacted them to see if the dates I wanted were available.
It took a while, but I started way in advance (almost a year). So when I asked someone to hold on to the rooms for a couple of days (while I sorted the rest out) they all said it was no problem.
Accommodation may look "high standard" but I can assure you the B&B's we chose were nowhere near the most expensive ones. I tried to find places somewhere in between "pricey" and "too basic". I did this because I had to keep the lower budgets of our parents in mind, but also their need for more comfort (we would have been happy with a tent now and then, just for the adventure - but you cannot rest old spines on field beds). At all time I kept a spreadsheet with an estimated total cost. That cost could not go above 3500€ per person for the whole trip, everything included.
I must admit things changed quite a bit in the beginning. For instance; I wanted to go to Knight Inlet but first took a lodge there that sits on the water's edge and is only reachable by one of those seaplane things. While I'm certain that experience would have been the bomb, I had to omit it as our old folks could simply not afford it, and also because it did not fit in with the rest of our plans (imagine flying from Vancouver to Knight Inlet and back and then STILL having to drive to Port McNeill for the Mackay whale tour anyway).
Posted 01 November 2011 - 09:22 AM
In the morning we visited Wells Gray Provincial Park. First stop was Dawson Falls, which is again right next to the road. And then Helmcken Falls, which is only a short walk to/from the parking lot.
Then we drove further into the park, all the way to Clearwater Lake. Our B&B had told us that there was a small shop with food and drinks there, but it was already closed for the season (since the day before). Bad luck! As we had nothing to eat and not that much to drink we changed our plans. Instead of going on a long walk here, we left early. To resupply in Clearwater, and then drive on further north to Mt. Robson. In fact, I had a small surprise for them that afternoon.
But before we left the park, we had one more small stop (and walk) at a place called "Ray Farm Mineral Springs". I chose this spot in the park as it is a bit different than the ever present pine trees/waterfalls/lakes, and wasn't disappointed. The place was beautiful, as you can see:
A couple of these guys just flew in when we left;
This guy wasn't scared of us either;
Wells Gray was our first big park. So far, we had only seen one (grizzly) bear and no black bears at all. So we hoped to see one there. Unfortunately we saw none. But! …the surprise I had was a stop at a place called Blue River. There's a company there that offers boat trips with guaranteed sightings of, you guessed it, bears!
In retrospect; good that we left Wells Gray earlier than foreseen because it was a long drive and we were only just in time for the last tour going out (4PM to 5PM). To be honest; we were actually 10 minutes late but fortunately they had no problem with that.
So we hopped on to one of the flat bottomed boats and a guide took us a bit upriver where the river actually became a lake. In the distance, another identical boat was already watching something on the shoreline of the lake. Yup; a black bear. Our guide switched to an electric engine, identical to the one we had seen at Knight inlet, and took us close to the bear.
He was quite young. No longer a youngster, but certainly not fully grown yet. It was following the shoreline, in search of food. But it was moving rather fast, and we wondered why. Had it smelled something and was now going for it? Soon we found out it was the inverse; he was not going towards something, but away from something. At the place where it came from another black bear popped out of the woods. This was a massive male. The small bear disappeared into the woods. So we moved closer to the big guy. We had him all to ourselves. The other boat left us; their tour (it only lasts an hour or so) had come at an end.
"Our" bear first went for a drink, and then just sat down on a big rock, in the most fun pose ever imaginable. We were only about 20m away on the water, so I was able to take a zillion pics of it.
Time was flying by, so our guide decided to look for more wildlife. Moose was high on our list, and the guide knew a place (some sort of grassy island) where they are often seen, so… The first thing we found was a bald eagle high up in a tree. Unfortunately in the shade. Next we stopped and hopped off for a short walk to some waterfalls. Pretty funny; these falls weren't even named, while they were certainly bigger (and more beautiful) than the biggest ones we have in Belgium.
Time to go back. No moose unfortunately. But there's always tomorrow…
After that boat tour it was high time to drive on to our next B&B; Mount Robson Mountain River Lodge. It was already after dark when we arrived in Valemount. Our B&B was still 30kms further, so we decided to have dinner there, in a restaurant called "The Caribou Grill", and call our B&B to warn them we were going to be late (they appreciated letting them know). The restaurant was actually a place that the B&B had advised us (in mails, when we booked the B&. I had bison meatloaf, it was delicious.
After dinner, another short drive to the B&B. We crashed into our beds asap. I was dead tired.
Before I forget; website of the lodge; GO HERE.
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:20 PM.
Posted 01 November 2011 - 09:28 AM
We had not looked much at the rooms last night. Too tired. These were clearly smaller rooms than the ones we had so far. Crazy how fast you get habituated to big rooms. Because let me be clear; these were not small rooms, but rather "regular" in size (similar to what we are used to in Europe). Two of our rooms had a view on Mt. Robson and the river flowing right in front of the lodge. Stunning! The third room, on the other side of the house, was perhaps a bit less. My parents had that one, as they prefer separate beds to sleep in. But it was clearly a room that was better for kids, and it had only one small window. Another small negative, for all of us this one, was the noise. So far we mostly had slept in places where it was dead silent at night (except for Whistler). But as said, Mount Robson Mountain River Lodge was built right next to a river, and the water made quite a noise. It was warm during the day, so to cool the rooms a bit we all wanted to sleep with the windows open (at least a bit). But if you open the windows the noise from the river was immense. Apparently my parents had less noise from the river but they could hear all the trucks passing on the highway nearby. We did not hear those though; the noise from the river blocked everything else out.
Before you start thinking that this B&B is perhaps the first in the list that did not meet up to our expectations; think again! The beds were great, the hosts were incredibly helpful and friendly, and the food was amazing. Breakfasts were a work of art:
Plus this B&B is ideally located for a visit to Mt. Robson; only a very short drive to the parking lot where the trail to Kinney Lake begins. A drive with a stunning view, by the way:
Lake Kinney was indeed our goal for that day. As I said; we were there with our parents, all people aged 60+, so all hikes/walks that I had planned to do were rather short (about 5-7kms max, from and to the car). But today was going to be different. Lake Kinney is 7kms ONE WAY. So I "reserved" the whole day to get there (and back). The thing is; I absolutely wanted to see this place, as I was told it is more beautiful than a lot of the lakes that are much more known (like the lakes in Banff NP and Jasper NP). plus it is a lot less touristy.
The tip to visit Kinney lake proved to be pure gold. It is actually a nice walk, following a river upstream, never steep, plenty of shade but sunny areas too. Along the way; grassy patches, huge pine trees, small waterfalls, and mushrooms in all shapes and sizes. And always; the stunning Mt. Robson towering above.
Kinney lake had the typical color of the mountain lakes, but because it was (again) a very hot and sunny day, and because there was absolutely no wind, the lake was a mirror, and yet again I was awarded with stunning pics.
We followed the shore a bit. The path went uphill (one steep patch), and there we found the perfect picnic spot with the most stunning view on the lake ever;
While my parents were digesting their food, we decided to walk on a bit to a cabin at the lake shore, but the view did not improve. Soon it was time to head back down. When we came at the parking lot we noticed that we still had some time left. And that we were out of drinks (at least the kind with alcohol). So we decided to pay a short visit to Rearguard Falls (also close to the B&, where some big shinook salmon were still jumping upstream, and then drive to the liquor store in Valemount. And indeed we saw some salmon at the falls, but was is quite impossible to photograph this; you have to wait for 15 mins or longer and still be ready to aim at the correct spot and press the shutter button. Oh well, can't win them all. Instead I had some fun using slow shutter speeds.
A second night at Mountain River Lodge. And another delicious breakfast, and then we were already at…
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:21 PM.
Posted 01 November 2011 - 09:33 AM
…of our trip. That day we were finally going into the Rockies, to Jasper National Park and later Banff National Park. We were warned that this would be "the last day with nice weather" and that more clouds were coming our way. I had initially planned to make this a "relaxed" day. Just drive to Jasper and stop at some of the lakes en route. Arrive at the next B&B early and perhaps have a stroll around town. But with the weather forecast in mind we decided to do something completely different. We decided to do the "Township Road". This road goes from Jasper to Maligne Lake, with some other tourist attraction along the way. So, we drove to Jasper without stopping, resupplied at a supermarket in Jasper, and then drove straight to Maligne lake. The other places we would visit on the way back.
At Maligne lake we did a small walk on the lake shore, but - with the hike from the previous days still in our legs - we turned back after a kilometer or two. So we did not see the "spirit island", but we did get plenty of nice views (and pics) from the lake, bathing in sunshine.
Also at Maligne lake; our first moose. A female, unfortunately (would have liked to see the big horns). She was not shy and allowed us to take pics from nearby while she was feeding on some bushes:
These guys were not shy at all either;
Time to visit those other places as well. But first; a stop at some picnic spot next to a small river. A deer kept us company there:
This is Medicine lake, another big lake that you pass to/from Maligne Lake. At the end of summer it empties out, as you can see. Quite different than any other lake we saw:
So where does that water go to? Well, to Maligne Canyon. You can visit this canyon, as there's a walkway following it. Pretty much all the way down. You just have to keep in mind that you have to walk back up the same way again (unless someone volunteers to go back alone and drive the car to one of the other "exits" further down).
At the beginning of the canyon the water is way below you, so pics do not show much (though it is spectacular standing on the little bridges that cross the canyon). But further down the canyon walls widen a bit. I experimented with slow shut speeds here and got some nice results.
On the way back, this guy gave a nice show. He was not scared at all and was so close that if I had stretched out my arm I could have touched him.
Our B&B for the next three nights was going to be "The Glass House" in Jasper. Web site; CLICK HERE
Our rooms were a bit all over the house. My parents' room and bathroom were behind a sliding door in the living room. My parents in law had a room in the back, you had to go through the dining room and a veranda (aka winter garden) to get there. And ours was on the first floor. In fact, the whole floor was ours. But it was all open-plan. Between bedroom and bathroom were low walls. And from the bedroom you could see the living room below. All that separated the two was a row of plants. We did not mind at all, as we had rented the whole house anyway (there are only three rooms and the owner lives downstairs, in a half-basement). But I can understand that people who rent the room we had, while other people rent other rooms, are less positive; you have a bit less privacy. Anyone can come up the stairs (no door) and/or hear you. Other than that; nothing but 100% positive comments from all of us; we all liked our rooms.
The owner gave us good advice regarding restaurants in town. The first evening we dined at an Italian restaurant. Forgot the name, forgot what I ate, but remember it was great.
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:22 PM.
Posted 01 November 2011 - 09:36 AM
Breakfast at The Glass House was a breakfast of kings as well. It was also a lot. In fact, it was so much that the owner always foresaw "doggie bags" for us, so we could eat this massive (but seriously delicious) scones somewhere later in the day.
We expected a rainy day, but when we stepped outside, the sky was more blue than cloudy. OK… change of plans again then! If it's a good day, better put a must-see destination on the menu! We decided to do Mount Edith Cavell. It's a nice drive up the mountain, and then a great walk from parking lot to the glacier and back. On our way there we saw two of these guys;
And Mount Edith Cavell was spectacular. But I'll let the pic convince you.
We walked to the shore of the lake in front of the glacier, rested a bit, and shook our heads multiple times: why are there always people ignoring the signs? In this case some positioned them right on the glacier for a picture. At regular intervals loud cracks and snaps could be heard above…
While on the way down, a chipmunk wanted a photo session;
We ate lunch at some picnic spot at the foot of the mountain, and then decided to visit some falls nearby; Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls. These were initially on my list for a later moment, when doing the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff. But I figured that drive was going to be long enough as it is, with all that can be seen/visited along the way. On our way to the falls, we saw these guys;
This is Athabasca Falls;
I liked the little lake at the bottom as well:
Then, on our way to Sunwapta Falls, another deer kept us company. This is taken from about 10 meters from it;
If you think that that was a nice image; the next thing Mr. Deer did was dip his feet in the shallow water of the river. This gave me my most spectacular image of the whole trip (in my opinion):
And this is Sunwapta Falls:
Time to drive back to Jasper after that. Again a nice restaurant, advised by the owner of our B&B. And again a good night sleep. We were all happy that we were granted this extra day of good weather, but feared a bit for the next days.
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:23 PM.
Posted 01 November 2011 - 09:44 AM
That day started indeed more cloudy. No rain, but grey skies nonetheless. Oh well. We had seen the most beautiful things around Jasper, so today we could just go slow and perhaps even spend the afternoon in town. Plenty of shops there, and our women had seen them. No further explanation needed I guess.
We decided to visit some small lakes in the neighborhood of Jasper; Patricia Lake and Pyramid lake. At Patricia lake, the skies were still very grey so the pic doesn't amount to much. We drove on to Pyramid lake and hurray! The sun was peering through the clouds now and then. From the parking lot there's a small bridge that leads to a little island in the middle of the lake. That gave us some nice pictures.
One word of warning though; the tour operators with their big buses know this spot as well, and it seems that in the morning they do the same as we did; leave the hotel and visit the lake. We were lucky as they all just left when we arrived.
From the island, using our binoculars, we spotted a male deer again, on the opposite shore. We decided to try to get closer to it. I drove a bit further to where the road ends (another parking lot, the buses turn here). There we followed a hiking trail along the shore. Close to the north-eastern tip of the lake we finally saw the deer again. And then saw a female as well, with a calf, further up the hill. The female had a GPS collar. They were still far away from us thug, so pics are just "snapshot" quality.
While driving back to Jasper, we noticed that we passed a place where there are plenty of aspen trees. Very different from what we had seen so far. So we decided to do a long walk there. The trail, about 7kms in length was called Cottonwood Slough, and circled some small marches. The sky cleared up a bit more, so pics turned out nice as well:
We also saw a lot of bear poo there. They had been stuffing themselves with the blueberries. We did not see any bears, but now know for sure what the answer to the "does a bear shit in the woods?" question is. We also found tracks of a muskrat.
When we came back to the car it was time for lunch. After that we decided to drive to Miette Hot Springs; again something else we had not done yet, and also something for which you do not need the best weather. We left our sunny valley and traded it for a valley that was very cloudy. But still; no rain. Only when we got out of the car at Miette Hot Springs, it started …snowing! Ver lightly, but snow it was for sure. Oh well, the baths would be warm so we entered the reception, paid, jumped in our swimwear, and into the hot water. But it had stopped snowing by then. Miette Hot Springs has a very hot bath (that makes your skin prickle, so it's really the limit), one that is a bit less warm (and is thus perfect for relaxing) and a cold bath to get your blood pump going. We liked it; there wasn't that much people around. But I guess in season, and on a hot day, it would be less fun.
When we came out of the baths, some mountain goats were grazing near the parking lot (sorry, no pics. Ugly MF's. Seriously ugly).
Time to drive back to Jasper. On our way back, we saw two big horn sheep cross the road:
Pretty funny anecdote; the sheep were strolling along the shore of the river, coming our way slowly (we were higher up, by the side of the road). Then suddenly another car stopped. A guy, dressed in a bright red training suit, got out, and started RUNNING towards the sheep with his camera in hand. Of course, the sheep took a freight and started running towards us. But before they reached us they ran uphill, back on the road. Right before our car they crossed the road again. Now, my mother and my mother-in-law saw them running towards us, but from where they were standing next to the car, they had not seen the guy in red. So they thought the sheep were charging them! I have never seen them get in the car so fast, jumping over each other to get into the door! It was hilarious, and we were still laughing with tears in our eyes 15 minutes after we had left the sheep.
We also saw - again - a male deer on a grassy island in the river next to the road. I decided to try a vertical pano:
We arrived in Jasper with some time to spare for shopping, and then went to again another restaurant on the main road opposite of the train station. Again it was delicious.
Coming up; the well-know Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Bannf!
(still have to write that part though. So it may take a couple of days)
Edited by Jochen, 03 January 2012 - 08:24 PM.