Lifestyle Travel Happy Canada Days
Happy Canada Days
Written by Dr Rob McEvoy
Wednesday, 06 December 2017

201712-Mcevoy-floeA seaplane takes off toward the glacier at Taku LodgeBefore you decide to go to Canada, check a map. It’s a long way and it’s a good idea to tackle the trip in stages. Heading to Ottawa on the east coast of Canada? Then consider a jump to Sydney, then Hawaii and how can you bypass New York and Niagara Falls? This means one thing – get your visa sorted.

We made landfall in Honolulu as it was the only Hawaiian city we could directly access from Sydney, though we found the return trip had more destinations on offer. While Honolulu served mostly as a resting post for us, a tour of Pearl Harbor was a must-see for its war-time significance. But unless you like 130 hotels lined up on the beachfront, try to avoid Waikiki.

Next stop was New York and the city was gearing up for Independence Day. The best way to navigate the New York traffic is the hop-on, hop-off bus (with four different routes), which includes a ferry ride with commentary. The tickets allow two days’ travel.

We were fascinated by the Thousand Islands (where the salad dressing name comes from) – an archipelago of 1864 islands dotted along an 80km stretch of the St Lawrence River, starting around Kingston, and divided between Ontario and New York state.

We based ourselves in Kingston which has hotels on the water’s edge. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the town’s bars, sidewalk cafes, local supermarket and church. The ferry ride is a leisurely spot-the-luxury-house on these islands, which are mostly privately owned. Traveller’s Tip: pre-purchase your tickets to prevent queuing.

The centre of Ottowa has a long central canal, along with a mix of old buildings and new. Churches, the governor’s residence, the canal with locks, the mint and parliament are prime examples of the former while the National Gallery, with its indigenous exhibits, illustrate the latter.

The French-Quebec side of the city is fascinating. Again the hop on-off bus gives a good overview, including Chateau Laurier and new accommodation built in the old French style. Ottowa is clean but for those with allergic sensitivities, it can be ‘mould capital of the world’.

201712-Canada-light-planeA seaplane is dwarfed by a cruise liner.Calgary is home to the famous Calgary Stampede, held each September. The spectacular backdrop of the Rocky Mountains was included a drive to Banff (in Alberta). While not ski season, we could still visit the Sky Bistro via local bus, at sunset, on the top of the mountain, a trip to remember via cable car.

A short trip takes in Lake Louise where theories abound as to how the deep lake gets its rich turquois colour. The scientific consensus is the silt-like rock flour, which is continually being carried into the lake by melt-water from the surrounding glaciers refract blue and green wavelengths of light. However it happens, it’s beautiful. On the lake nestles the Fairmont Chateau hotel, which is equally fascinating. It opened in the late 19th century as part of the expansion of the railroad.

We were headed for Jasper to catch the Rocky Mountaineer train experience and on the way dropped into the Athabasca glacier, part of the Columbia icefield in the Canadian Rockies.

It’s a two-day train trip to Vancouver on the Rocky Mountaineer and there are two main routes through The Rockies – this one was spectacular. The service on the train is second to none, especially if you choose the Gold Leaf experience (and you should). The glazed tops to your carriages…well I now understand the term ‘rubber necks’ to describe tourists. Left, right or above – always something amazing to look at.

The refreshments come thick and fast – let’s just say why drink water when you can drink wine.

Kamloops is the half-way city, in British Columbia, where the north and south Thompson Rivers meet. We experienced the warm welcome of Canadian Indian chanting, champagne on arrival, bags waiting for us in our hotel room, and smiles all round.

The next day, we left Kamloops for Vancouver and, as we followed the river, we could see the blackened evidence of the severe bushfires that swept through the region.

201712-Rocky-MountaineerImpeccable service on the Rocky MountaineerWe decided to stay in Old Vancouver, which has a rich history. Again, we opted for the hop on-hop off bus to familiarise ourselves with the specific sites, to which we returned to explore in more detail and soak up the ambience the next day.

One of the great things about travel is stumbling upon the local ‘happenings’. For us there was a national soccer match that was absorbing people’s attention, an indigenous festival and the local markets. There always seemed to be something happening in this city of glass, where unlike Australia, the inhabitants seem hungry for sunshine.

When cruising the Inside Passage via Queen Charlotte Sound, there are four or five ships cruising at any one time. Our ship stopped over at night to offload an elderly passenger with heart trouble – as a result, we arrived late to Sitka (Alaska) but the town stayed open late to accommodate us.

This former Russian capital city boasts two centres that rescue and rehabilitate bears and raptors. This was the first town in which we saw the salmon jumping on the ocean shoreline as they waited to head upstream as part of the spawning cycle.

The ultimate prize was the Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier on the North American continent. On the way back was the townsite of Juneau, where bush pilots in a classic De Havilland seaplane flew over five glaciers on the way to Taku Lodge. Here, we witnessed our first wild black bear, who was salmon tasting with a stick-wielding cook, and we got to savour and hear about King Salmon, log cabin building, and past trekkers to the lodge.

At Ketchikan, a similar wilderness experience started from a seasonal fishing port where a rubber dingy took us to Silverking Lodge in Tongass National Park for a seafood meal then back in town, the largest collection of totem poles.

Returning to Vancouver, we hardly touched the surface of things to see – but we tried. Stanley Park, Canada Place (the simulated flight experience of Fly Over Canada), and Granville Island markets, to name a few. Day trips abound, such as the one to Victoria Island where a Pacific Coach picks you up, drives onto the ferry, and disembarks at Victoria Island – the original capital of Canada with its mixture of old world charm and funky modern.

The Butchart Gardens, all 22ha, were astounding. Something is in bloom at every turn.

A trip to the Tree Top Adventure and Capilano Suspension Bridge over the Capilano River was notable not the least for the free transport to the venue!

Heading home it was another half-way stop in Hawaii, but this time in Maui and we had a ball if for a fleeting 36 hours. Definitely on another itinerary some other time!