Toronto to Vancouver by Rail on board "The Canadian"
Keely & I relived the romance of rail travel and took 5 days to travel the breadth of Canada, experiencing such wonders as the serenity of the Muskoka Lakes, the vast expanse of the prairie grasslands and the stunning beauty of the Canadian Rockies.
Whale & Bear Watching Yacht Cruise in British Columbia
We sail aboard the yacht "Pacific Yellowfin" to explore the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest temperate rainforests left on earth.
Toronto to Jasper (Day 1 / May 5)
On the evening of Keely's birthday on 5 May, Google Earth Jet zoomed us both across the world to Toronto on the first day of our wonderful holiday. It was morning when we arrived in Canada, so we had the whole day to explore this vibrant city before boarding our train at 5 o'clock at evening.
I had never been on a double-decker bus before, unlike Keely who hails from UK where double-deckers are plentiful, so we joined a sightseeing bus tour for the day!
|Our super-duper double-decker sightseeing bus|
|Niagara Falls / Horseshoe Falls|
|CN Tower's 360 degree top-floor restaurant|
|Thomas and Keely about to board The Canadian|
|Our suite on the train and Keely's birthday dinner|
Our journey took us firstly through the scenic lakelands of northern Ontario and then westwards through the provinces of Manitoba & Saskatchewan, the breadbasket of Canada with it golden wheat fields stretching as far as the eye can see.
|Traveling through Ontario (left) and Saskatchewan (right)|
|Arriving in Jasper on the morning of 6 May|
The Canadian Rockies
Jasper to Lake Louise (Day 2 / May 6)
Jasper is a picturesque town located in the Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It is also home to a wide variety of wildlife including eagles, black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk and deer.
|left: Jasper, top right: Black Bear, bottom right: Grizzly|
First we decided to walk around the town and do some shopping for the folks back home, meeting friendly locals along the way.
Then we joined a bus tour and visited some of the prettiest sites around the Park.
We saw our first bears here too - both the grizzly and black bear. The Park was just stunning, and almost everywhere we looked was a picture waiting to be snapped. The Maligne Valley in particular was breathtaking.
|Medicine Lake in the Maligne Valley|
We kept seeing these furry animals in the Valley, usually sunning themselves on rocks. Our guide told us they were Hairy Marmots - one of the largest rodent species in the Park, weighing up to - get this - 30 pounds (that's over 13.5 kg). Crikey.
|Hairy Marmot - weighing up to 30 pounds (13.6kg)|
We returned back to our train for lunch, then boarded a coach to take us to Lake Louise via one of the most scenic highways in North America - the Icefields Parkway.
|Waiting for the coach to take us to Lake Louise|
Once the coach arrived, we set off. We visited the Columbia Icefield and even took a ride on an Ice Explorer on the amazing Athabasca Glacier. The Ice Explorer is a specialised bus with 6-wheel drive that can trek across the 6 mile x 1 mile glacier with ease.
|Ice Explorer monster|
|View of the Athabasca Glacier from the Visitor's Center|
|The glacier looks like a frozen ocean in places|
We continued on with our coach tour and arrived at Lake Louise, a beautiful sparkling turquoise lake resting at the foot of Victoria Glacier which rises majestically behind this milky blue lake and is capped by snow and ice year-round.
We checked into the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise ...
... then it was time for some fun!
|Keely mountaineering and Thomas snowboarding at Lake Louise|
|Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise - left: restaurant right: our suite|
Lake Louise to Banff (Day 3 / May 7)
The next morning we departed Lake Louise for the short drive via the scenic Bow Valley to Banff.
It was almost lunchtime when we stopped at the stunning Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Bow Valley. The Hotel is styled as a Scottish baronial castle and has been a symbol of the Canadian Rockies for over a century. More important just then to us though, it was also the home of the Bow Valley Grill!
Keely and I poured over the extensive menu, finally choosing to share a delicious plate of BBQ prawn kebabs.
Banff - the jewel of the Canadian Rockies
After lunch we set off again and soon arrived in Banff which is the largest of Alberta's mountain towns, having established itself long ago as a major summer and winter holiday destination.
Our coach dropped us at the front door of our very own charming and comfortable private chalet right in the heart of Banff township.
|Our very own chalet in Banff|
|left: Gondola middle: top of Sulphur Mountain right: hot springs|
We found a little supermarket on our excursion and later that evening cooked a delicious romantic dinner for two "at home" in our chalet. Afterward we fell asleep while snuggling and watching Keely's favourite movie, Dr Zhivago.
Banff to Vancouver (Day 4 / May 8)
The next day after breakfast we boarded the Rocky Mountaineer for the scenic rail journey via the "Kicking Horse Route" to Kamloops in the interior of British Columbia. Was funny too, 'cos an elk was there to wave us goodbye from Banff!
|An Elk farewell|
As our train crossed over the continental divide, we passed through the remarkable man-made spiral tunnels in Yoho National Park. Seeing different sections of the same long train come in and out of tunnels at the same time was fascinating!
Continuing on, we passed through the Rogers Passin Glacier National Park with its endless views of snow-capped mountains and stunning glaciers. Our train then followed the Thompson River through Ashcroft (one of Canada's driest towns with an average rainfall of just 18cm) before stopping in Lytton so we could try white water rafting!
We had a huge amount of fun, even getting thrown into the water at one stage. After about 10 kilometers we landed our rafts and re-boarded our train, grateful for a hot shower and rest before enjoying our late evening meal in the restaurant.
Then we lounged in our stateroom, admiring the beautiful evening landscape rolling past until we reached Vancouver. It was bittersweet; the first part of our wonderful trip was over but the second part just beginning.
Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city and we had plenty to do to keep us busy for the one evening that we would be in town ...
... but first we checked into our hotel - the Fairmont Waterfront.
|Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver|
|Our suite at the Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver|
Once we were settled in, we popped open the complimentary bottle of pink champagne and toasted our journey thus far. We sat on our balcony to sip and cuddle while we looked out across the beautiful city lights.
|Vancouver at night|
Whale & Bear Watching Cruise in British Colombia
(Days 5-10 / May 9-14)
When we arrived at the marina, we were shown to our yacht "Pacific Yellowfin".
|The good ship "Pacific Yellowfin"|
Built as a coastal freighter for the US Army during World War II, this classic wooden boat has led an exciting life with stints ranging from spy ship to research vessel to houseboat. She was painstakingly refit in 2003 and now boasts all the amenities of a luxury yacht while retaining her unique character.
|Our yacht was both stylish and comfortable|
After meeting the crew and settling in, we set sail, eager to spend the next five days cruising on the lookout for whale and bear!
|The wheelhouse of the "Pacific Yellowfin"|
The Great Bear Rainforest
|Great Bear Rainforest - paradise on earth|
We sailed past Vancouver Island, heading for British Columbia's Central Coast where, nestled between high alpine reaches and the Pacific Ocean, lies one of the largest temperate rainforests left on earth and one of the last unspoiled wildernesses, the Great Bear Rainforest.
Covering over two million hectares, the Great Bear Rainforest is one of the last gems on the Pacific Coast. In this lush rainforest stand 1000 year old cedar trees and 90 metre tall Sitka spruce.
This enormous canopy shields a host of pristine waterways and an amazing menagerie of wildlife. Salmon teem in river estuaries; Orca and humpback whales patrol the deeper coastal waterways and eagles soar among the towering mountain peaks. Wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and the mythical Kermode or "spirit bears" forage amid the towering old-growth forests.
|top: inquisitive wolves bottom: we pose with some big bears|
We visited creeks and river estuaries, keeping an eye out along the shore as we traveled, and we were rewarded with the sight of two of these magnificent white bears during our voyage.
The sighting of the second white bear was especially exciting as we were in our inflatable. The white bear walked straight towards us through the river and then paused to look at us! He was only a few feet away yet he acted completely natural. He walked along a fallen log and splashed about in the water as he tried to catch a salmon for lunch. This unbelievable encounter lasted only a few minutes but it was the most adrenalin-fueled bear encounter we've ever had!
The Great Bear Rainforest is home to a significant concentration of coastal grizzly bears. Dotted throughout the rainforest we had seen what seemed to be shacks on stilts and asked the crew about them. They turned out to be platforms from which we could view the bears feeding!
The bears are generally more active in the early morning and late afternoon hours so we timed our viewings to coincide ... getting some great shots of the impressive beasts.
|Pics from viewing platforms scattered throughout the rainforest|
We learned that two different races of orca feed in the coastal waters off the Great Bear Rainforest. So-called "residents" prefer a diet of fish, feeding exclusively on salmon during the summer months. "Transient" individuals have slightly more pointed dorsal fins, but the real difference lies in their behaviour - they prefer to eat marine mammals, including sealions, porpoises, dolphins and even grey and minke whales.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time cruising the remote estuaries. Each day our activities included wildlife watching and shore excursions to explore. We spent a lot of time in the water with the whales and dolphins. We spent each night in a different, secluded anchorage.
|Keely especially loved the dolphins|
Raincoast - a wonderful organisation dedicated to protecting the land, water and wildlife of British Columbia. One of their innovative approaches to end the trophy hunt includes purchasing the commercial hunt licences attached to these areas. Their website linky is: Raincoast
The Great Bear Rainforest is also under threat from logging, but of even more immediate concern is the oil tankers. The oil company 'Enbridge' intends to ship thousands of gallons of oil to China using tankers that would have to navigate between the jagged islands along the British Columbia coast. This means a spill would be inevitable and the consequences would be horrific.
To find out more about these tankers coming to the Great Bear Rainforest, please visit the Pacific Wild website and view the great documentary 'spOIL': Pacific Wild
|Keely - a superb sailor|
We cruised down the coast and eventually arrived in Vancouver, where we berthed the yacht and unloaded our gear. After thanking our hosts most sincerely, we boarded the Google Earth Jet and settled down into our seats for the seconds-long return trip home.
|Boarding the GEJ|
Postcards sent home
|7 May 2011|
|11 May 2011|
|12 May 2011|
|12 May 2011|