150609 Zip Lining

Zip lining sounds like something to do with a fly in a pair of trousers. But it isn’t. We had been recommended to do this venture by some folk around our age – retired. So we weren’t going to be outdone.

It was an early start for us, as our plan was to do the zip lining and then proceed on to Vancouver to clean the camper van ready for the following day’s return. The bus left at 9:00am for the venue up in the hills a bit.

After the initial ‘get-to-know-you’ chat, we were given the rules of this fun adventure. It was good that we had so many young people in the group as our grey hair (covered inside a blue hard hat – not to mention the bruises from the camper van) stood out for them to lend assistance if necessary. With all the equipment on our shoulders, we headed to the line up of ATV (4WD) vehicles for the ‘race’ to the top of the valley to start from the first of four zip lines.

I never knew what zip lining was. Lyn had done it in Singapore on a very short line and I hadn’t taken in what she was really talking about on her return. But the sky was brilliant again and the trees were green with new growth.  Twelve of us were ready to try out this new ‘thing’.

When you look down from the first tower to the end of the first run, you say, “What, me, sliding down that piece of wire for a kilometre and a half? You got to be joking!” The money was paid and we were told there was “no refunds”, so we just had to make good use of the expense.

We would be going on the parallel lines in two’s. After the first couple left the departure point, our stomachs seemed to settle a little. And as each couple left, the stomach settled even more. Then it was our turn. After double-checking that we were secure, the lever was released and we were off on our first exhilarating trip. With wind blowing in our hair, legs up in the air, screams of delight from Lyn, and me trying to photograph the event, we made it to the receiving platform. The brakes came on and up our legs swung in the air – “Wow! Fabulous! Where’s the next one?”

The next line was even longer and faster, and went between the trees although, from a distance, it looked as though one tree was going to go through me. By the time we reached the third, we were ready for anything – game as you can get. This one was the shortest but had a steep start and so we got up to full speed within 10 metres of the departure platform. Wind in the hair stuff – yes please!

I had thought that my Meniere’s problem might rear its ugly head but no – fabulous!

On the final line, they asked us in big letters along the way to ‘smile’ for the cameras. How could you not? Where did they hide these things when I was a kid?

What a great experience to finish off our fabulous camper van trip around British Columbia and Alberta, provinces of Canada. Being in a camper van saves the limits of travelling in a coach. No time deadlines and freedom to go where you wish on the day.

We made it back to Vancouver to clean the van and hand it over the next morning. One of the worst things to end a vacation was about to happen. Our flight left nearly 12 hours after our transfer to Vancouver Airport and then the flight to Sydney was a further 15 hours.

And so endeth a great 4 weeks in Alaska and Canada. Next trip! South America departing September 1. It’s not too late to contact Lyn and join the group of 21 happy clients.

150609 Whistler

We have been so blessed on this 4-week adventure. The day of arrival into Vancouver was overcast and for two and half days after leaving Banff, we had rain. The rest of our holiday has been full-on blue-sky days, just magical in many ways. It was a pity that between Banff and Jasper and around to Maligne Lake, there was ‘inclement weather’ but, as one of the many Australian youth working in the tourist spots said, “This place has interesting views no matter what the weather.”

Whistler is no exception. Looking out the window from bed, the sky is ready for making our day perfect. The receptionist at the RV Camp had said that we had about a kilometre walk into Whistler, but it was a 30-minute brisk walk along the bike track and through the woods. The village is brand new from when the Winter Olympics were on in 2010. There are no cars and no smoking (That has to be the first town I have heard of that has a ban on smoking throughout – no exceptions). The walkways wind through landscaped gardens with lots of well kept brand name shops. As this is a snow village, there are lots of outdoor activity shops that get our attention. Jewellery shops are a plenty and Lyn’s Pandora collection has been extended.  This is a ‘bad’ town to bring your shopaholic wife.

Just yesterday was the last skiing day at Whistler and apparently, all the young people celebrated by dressing up in suits and fancy clothes going to the top of the mountain and snowboard and ski in their non-skiing attire; just one big end of season party.

Our trip up the mountain in the gondola brought us into the snowline. Work was going on to clear snow and enable the mountain tracks to be used for those who do wilderness trekking. We then travelled across to Blackcomb Mountain in the Peak-to-Peak gondola lift, a distance of 3.03 kilometres with the highest point above ground being 436 metres. The weather was calm and so very little movement in the gondola as we travelled across. As the ‘summer’ season is a good time to renovate and expand facilities, we could only do the crossing, look around and return to Mount Whistler. There were some marmots there entertaining the tourists.

While buying lunch, the Canadian guy serving me had been to Geelong a couple of years ago and been to a Cats vs. Carlton game. (He’s still trying to work out the rules.) But he did enjoy the spectacle of it all. He loves the Geelong area now and says he will return.

On our return down the mountain, we decided to go zip lining for tomorrow morning before heading back to Vancouver.

150608 Clearwater to Whistler

I was going to do just one more post for this trip but thought that you may like to see the locations split up a bit more than just a big bundle. It seems that the scenery is to blame for this but I’m sure you will agree Canada’s ‘back-country’ has lots to show off.

We left Dutch Lake at Clearwater quite early for us, 9:00am, headed for Whistler around 400km away. Taking back roads gives you scenes that the tourist doesn’t really get to see in a coach. In the camper, you get to stay or move on whenever you like, without any deadlines made by others. We climbed for 16kms up into the plateau region of Northern British Columbia and passed many beautiful lakes for many miles. We hardly noticed any rivers and absolutely no waterfalls like the day before north of Clearwater. A sign said, “cappuccino and coffee” so we took the directions and found a lovely little café on the edge of a lake with such a peaceful view. The payment made for the hot chocolates and cakes was excessive but then the location and view offered was superb. The drinks and cakes weren’t too bad, either.

We found a little town called “100 mile house”; yes, that’s the name of the town, named because it was 100 miles from the commencement of the Cariboo gold rush in the area at Lillooet. Driving around the town area, we noticed hanging baskets of petunias at each lamppost. At the visitors’ centre, we made the comment and the assistant there said that at the end of the season, the petunias reach down to the ground forming beautiful pillars of flowers around the town.

Whistler is still a long way from 100 Mile House, and we did want to find a spot in the busy campground for the night, so we ‘kept up with the speeding traffic’ as much as we could. The traffic never seems to keep to the said speed limit; it is always 10-20 kph over the limit. Fortunately, the Mercedes Sprinter can sit on 110-115 with out a problem.

The landscape changes constantly and by the time we reach Lillooet, it is a lot like Queenstown, Tasmania; very little vegetation left barren from the Gold Rush Days. But then back to the majestic snow capped mountains and deep gorges with busy rivers feeding the snow melt towards the ocean. We notice a major problem that even though the roads are mainly well constructed. There is not a lot of vista viewing points along the way. There is so much beautiful landscape to photograph that Lyn has to poke the camera across me to shoot through my window as we are driving, at times.

We arrived at the Whistler RV Park around 7:00pm in time for an evening meal and a walk before bed.

Tomorrow, we are going up Mount Whistler in a gondola and then do the Peak to Peak experience.

150606 Clearwater

First of all, did anyone notice a mistake in the third paragraph yesterday? If you did, great! What was it? And what should it be? No hints at this stage.

We are surely grateful for a knowledgeable young guy in the Clearwater Tourist Information Centre. As I said earlier, I had been given a tip-off to visit Clearwater. We now know the reason, as the day turned out to be a brilliant “waterfall viewing” day. He said it would take two and a half hours. We stretched it out to 6, as we have become accustomed to do. Of course, there was a nap thrown in there at some stage, and ice cream to finish off the day.

Each waterfall was different in its own way. The first, Spahats Falls, seemed to come down a canyon and out through a hole before a drop into the river. The second, Dawson Falls, was a very busy noisy waterfall, with much water flowing over large boulders creating a lacy effect. The Helmcken Falls, were the type where, when you come upon, you can do nothing but stare at the scene before you. It’s the sort of scene you have to ‘take in’ before even taking the camera out for photos. We fell in love with it. The Niagara Falls are described as being wide with an enormous amount of water flowing over them. The Helmcken have nearly three times the height of the Niagara Falls, but with much less water coming over them.

Of course, we did it again. Blue sky and warm sunshine came along with us.

We finished off the day with a 25th anniversary meal – again – at the campground restaurant looking over Dutch Lake.

Tomorrow is a long driving day to Whistler.

 

150606 Blue River

These two days have been ‘something out of the box’. When the travel agent left it up to me to do the itinerary for our camper van trip, I wanted to go to locations that we hadn’t heard of before. We knew nothing of Blue River and only had a suggestion from someone way back of the name Clearwater.

Blue Water River Safari, “One Amazing Hour” tagline got us in and so we decided to visit in the early morning to get the crisper pictures of the outdoors. The operator told us that if we didn’t see bear, we would have half the fare refunded- that’s a good deal – so we took it.

The Safari is in little ‘tinnies’ with about 10-12 passengers and a rather good speed. Our guide was Raul. This is his third summer season with the company and he is from Spain. So our relationship was instant friends. After the normal chitchat to break the ice, we speed around this beautiful lake keeping close to the shore so as not to disrupt the brilliant reflections we were able to capture. As the whole event is to look for bear, each of the passengers had their eyes ‘glued’ to the bushy shoreline for movement and also up in the high trees for eagle nests. Soon after leaving the dock, we saw the first eagle on its eyrie (nest) high up in a tree.

Then Raul spotted a bear on the shoreline, fossicking for berries and other edible plants and ants. We stopped by for a good 20 minutes and then noticed a second bear just close by. It is matting season and if a female is seen, there is sure to be a male following waiting for the time for doing his job. Once done, the female bear shows hate to her partner and he has to get out of the way – we are told.

The feeling of speeding across a glassy lake with magnificent mountains as a backdrop, just took us away on another journey. We went up a creek and found a small water flow into the lake. It didn’t take long for this “One Amazing Hour” to pass, but because Raul had found some bears, he kept looking for more and we were treated to an extension of 30 minutes, searching for more bear and eagles; without success.

On our return to the dock, just Lyn and I were treated to a 4WD tour up into the high mountains to look out over the lake we had just traversed. The guide was the sister to the main operator of the River Safari so we had good information provided about the plants in the area and what bears and other wild animals survive on. Of course, the search for bear went on too. It was interesting that they allow the harvest of trees. The trees prevent the growth of vegetation for the wildlife to survive on and so after the tall trees are felled, and two trees are planted to replace the one cut, the young vegetation becomes food for the animals; a purpose built way of providing both timber for paper and food for the natural wildlife.

On our return, we had a delicious meal in the floating restaurant. I met up with the owner of the business and he sat with us and explained the building of his business especially the furniture, which he made himself. The dinning room can cater for over 100 tourists at a time. The tables were one whole piece of cedar seating 30-40 diners. He had carved the chairs with a chainsaw – all 100 of them. And he is 70 years of age, and not wanting to stop, while his wife lives 150km away.

This was definitely a high point of our touring and will be on our ‘suggestion list’ for other clients to enjoy.

The second day will be posted tomorrow – maybe!

 

150601 Banff to Blue River

Saturday – It wasn’t easy getting out of bed on Day 1 in Banff although the scenery outside looked great from the lying down position. We eventually emerged and, after showers and breakfast, walked to the town of Banff in beautiful sunshine.

This town is a tourists’ mecca and always loaded with Australians with their Scenic, Evergreen, APT and Travelmarvel name tags showing. After some time at a free Wi-Fi café, publishing the blog and catching up on things on Facebook and emails, we did the tourist thing and browsed the souvenir shops. In one shop, a guy with an accent got chatting to us and then he suddenly dropped the accent. “Ah,” I said, “From Australia?” “No from Christchurch.” “I was born there too.” There are many Australian and New Zealand young people working over here during both winter and summer. They are allowed to work for 2 years before returning or moving on.

We got chatting to some folk that had Evergreen nametags on and asked if Di Lowe was their Tour Guide. Di was our Tour Guide for our group to Africa in 2013. We were aware she was in Canada so turned up at the hotel and gave her a BIG surprise. Small world, again.

Sunday – Day 2 in Banff, we thought we had better get some photos. The sky was blue and just had that summer warmth to it. There is a gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain so after the early morning Wi-Fi connection; we boarded a bus to the mountain. Who should be on the bus but some folk from Alstonville, who were on the Alaskan 7 day tour and the Coral Princess Cruise – small world, again. I had said to them back in Vancouver, “See you in Banff”, not realizing that I was making a prophecy.

The view from the summit is just incredible and to be able to have the opportunity with clear skies was magnificent. We hadn’t had any breakfast hoping to have it in the restaurant but that was full of Australians on an Evergreen Tour, so breakfast was a small snack. The elevation at the summit is 2281 meters or 7496 feet.

As this trip is our 25th anniversary of opening the travel agency, we took advantage of having the memory etched, 3D in crystal; a great memento of Lyn’s great work over the past 25 years.

On our return to lower levels, I followed Lyn, the travel agent, onto a bus, headed for the hot springs. Well, we got off 100 metres down the road, as the hot springs were across the road from the bus stop. $4 later. We could have purchased some ‘old fashioned’ neck to knee bathers for the event had we known. The picture would have looked priceless. It’s quite a walk down the hill back into town but we decided to take the trail. Half way along, I said, “You know, we could see a bear. How would you like some close-ups?” Lyn became very calm – NOT. Consoling Lyn has become an art I never knew I had. Low and behold, there was a bear down the trail in front of us. We both noticed him but were fooled. A tree trunk looked just like a bear.

After a wander around the famous Fairmont Hotel property, looking as though we were guests, we walked into town and did some more shopping – on the other side of the street, before heading back for an early night.

Tuesday – “Lets get up early and head off towards Jasper for tomorrow night”, was our reason for an early night. Would you believe we exited Banff at 11:00am? The rain had arrived and was with us as we visited a few gorgeous lakes on our way to Jasper. Our favourite lake so far is Lake Peyto, a magnificent green/turquoise in colour. We did some filming of a grizzly bear on the side of the road, with scores of other tourists trying to do the same thing. Guess what? We didn’t make it to Jasper that night. In fact, we can’t remember the name of the campground we stayed at; it was a ‘drop your money in a box’ honesty state campground, next to a river ‘built’ for fishermen.

Wednesday – Staying at such a place enables you to get going early and we were able to get to the Glacier Park before they even started operations for the day. It seemed like a spooky place at first. We took the snow bus up to the glacier at 9:00am with just 5 other people. This gave us full attention from the driver and he cared for us well. On our way back down from the glacier to the visitor’s centre, we passed 3 snow buses full of coach tourists, and a further 2 coaches arrived at the transfer station; we certainly thanked the idea of getting going so early. At the visitor’s centre on our return, there were lines of people, mainly Australians, lined up for the snow buses and the cafeteria. Di Lowe, our tour director in Africa, was in amongst the masses, we noticed.

A new ‘high’ point for the Glacier Park is the Sky Walk. You have to join the visit by bus and travel to a spot where the skywalk is suspended, not from, but ‘out’ from the cliff face – an enormous architectural feat. We were certainly impressed with the experience.

From the Glacier experiences, we were fortunate to see a few black bears on the roadside. We also visited the Athabasca Falls and on to Jasper. We did the wrong thing and looked around the town and had dinner before going to the RV campground. By being late, we were unable to use a full hook-up site so no batteries were charged overnight.

Today (Thursday) Departing at 7:30 and arriving at popular tour coach destinations early is well worth it. It’s about 50km to Maligne Lake and great bear country, we were told (saw none). But were able to have breakfast overlooking the lake covered in mist and rain before the “tourists” arrived. Among them were two couples we had met on the Alaskan section of our trip – small world again. We visited the Maligne Canyon on our way back towards Jasper and managed to take a nap of 30 minutes or so. The canyon is quite a showpiece, with snowmelt bustling its way to the river mouth, somewhere in the Artic Sea. We met a couple and their daughter on the Glacier the other day and since then have met up at the restaurant last night and again at the Maligne Canyon. They are from Quebec, which is French speaking, and the wife wanted to take our photo for memory of a ‘great couple from Australia’.

Our fridge stopped working on propane last night and the water heater pilot light had gone out. On our way through Jasper, we had them fixed at no cost to us. Now the food will stay cool and the dishes will get done.

Leaving Jasper at 3:00pm, we found a great spot for an ice cream at Mt Robson, a well-known mountain peak of the area. The view from the visitor’s centre is awe-inspiring. The roads have been good this afternoon and we have been able to travel at 110kph to where we are for the night at Blue River. We are thinking of taking a ‘Trip of a Lifetime’ on their river experience in the morning.

 

 

150531 Vancouver to Banff

Our Canadian adventure begins with the realization that we are in a different motor home to ours back in Australia. The count is on. The number of bruises is rising at a rapid rate, mainly in the head region. Have you ever seen bruises through grey hair? Why? You say. Cupboard knobs and corners seem to jump out at us. We can’t ‘pass in the hallway’. This thing is called a Weeeeenie bargo – not much room to move at all. There is no room to swing a cat. Lyn has to even go outside to do up her bra strap. We haven’t tried the shower in the van yet. With closed doors, I am sure they would fly open just trying to wash the sleep from the eyes. Thank goodness all the van parks we have been to so far have picnic tables for us to dine at. So, please, no one ever call our motor home a Winnebago again. We have space and comfort in our Paradise, gr8l1f.com

The ‘journey plan’ is to get to Banff in reasonably good time. It is a full day’s journey. Some of the scenery and lakes are beautiful. One mountain pass was made up of an avalanche that occurred back in 1965. Two people were crushed, never to be found in the snowy mountain rock and slush.

Would you believe we had 3 one-hour sleeps on day 1 and only travelled 250km to Penticton? But our site had a fabulous view to enjoy, right on the edge of the lake, with a mountain range near the edge of the water. We met up with a couple that drives their young son all the way up from Portland just to play ice hockey – that’s a 6-hour drive without stops.

Day 2 starts as we depart at 9:30am Will we get to Banff today? NO. Lots of nice scenery with snow capped mountains, mountain streams and trains with over 100 freight carriages to count – well just the one was counted. We are retracing our trip of 1983 from Vancouver to Banff when we had the kids with us. So much more quiet and easy going! The highway needs many more rest stops and viewpoints to stop at for more photos to be taken but Lyn has had to ‘fire away’ from the vehicle as we travel, at times. After having 3 naps during yesterday, I decided to take a coffee at around 11:00am – that stuff works! I didn’t feel sleepy the rest of the day. We arrive at Revelstoke and drive through this ski town and find a motor home park for the night. Did I say we counted over 100 carriages on a train? We counted over 100 trains during the one night, it seemed, as we were parked beside the Trans Canadian rail line. They know how to use trains for freight in Canada. I wish they did in Australia in order to get the trucks off the Hume Highway.

Day 3 starts at 9:00am and we head toward Banff, again. We pass through some more mountain ranges peaking at 1800 metres at one spot. Lakes and mountain ranges, lakes and mountain ranges. Fortunately, the highway is easy driving with the speed limit easy to keep up with. At the entrance to YoHo National Park, we purchase passes to last 5 nights – $99.00 seniors rates (they believed we were seniors when Lyn took off her hat to reveal the evidence – and the bruises).

Our road joined the Bow Valley Highway (Banff to Jasper) just near the infamous Lake Louise. The sky was blue with white clouds around so we decided to visit. Oh dam, tourists; from every corner of the globe, including some from Australia and New Zealand; and this was after 4pm. We took lots of photos and video and a walk around the lake. Inside the Chalet, we found some great tee shirts to souvenir – ah, we didn’t though at $200 each.

Banff is just 55km east of Lake Louise. The greatest RV Park we have seen in our travels is just nearby Banff and we locate there for 3 nights. Our view is towards Tunnel Mountain with Banff just to the right. As you can see from the photo, there is lots of room for wildlife to wander. We keep the food locked away from the bears though. Wildlife? Just the one brown fronted thrush so far.

 

 

 

150527 Cruise to Camper

The amount of organization to get everyone off a cruise ship is unbelievable. Collecting bags from outside our rooms, mustering many people to get off in groups according to luggage tag colors, having transfer coaches arrive at the specified time as well as loading passengers and supplies before the evening departure of the next cruise, would bring headaches that I didn’t want (I have my own), so I let someone else do it.

Our transfer to our camper pick up was to arrive 2 hours after our disembarkation so we sat in a Starbucks sipping hot chocolate and catching up on Internet needs. There are a few people I play ‘Yahtzee With Friends’ with who had been sending reminders during the cruise and it was time for me to make my moves. (what did we do before that came along?)

After arriving at the camper van depot at mid day, we spent two hours going over the rental documents and being given a ‘how does everything work’ tour. We were then given instructions where to find a supermarket and phone store but they fell on deaf ears (I didn’t have my hearing aids in haha). So we drove. There are a lot of forgiving people in Canada who “would love to go to Australia”. They did eventually get us to where we wanted to go. After an hour in the supermarket we were 2 hours just getting prepaid SIM cards for our phones (it’s quicker buying a house).

We found the Highway heading east and eventually a sign that said Lake Culter. Then we found a campground to park for the night albeit without hookups – but free wifi. I recall Lyn saying on the ship “I hope I remember how to cook after all this nice food.” She did very well while I continued doing research for my book, “You can sit there as long as you talk to me.” I found an ex truckie willing to provide another short chapter. Haha!

The camper van is a Winnebago Touring Coach on a Mercedes frame. A little narrow inside but will get us through – we are glad we don’t have hips like so many did on the cruise. The bed up the back is a ‘makeup every night’ arrangement used as a lounge dinning room during the day. With a very small bathroom, campground showers will be used when required (daily) and available. I have banged my head 4 times getting into the drivers seat from the van and 3 other times on the cupboard doors above the kitchen bench. I gouged my arm on a corner while making the bed – found blood on my hand while researching that new chapter for my book. There are also many mosquitoes willing to keep us company – hope they don’t found out where our blood is kept.

Tomorrow, Thursday, we head towards the Canadian Rockies hoping to get to Revelstoke for the night.