We flew out of Glasgow in the early afternoon of Monday the 21st of May and set off for Calgary, where we were to meet our youngest daughter and collect our camper van, via Toronto. The flight was uneventful, the food was passable and, apart from a small glass of wine with the meal, the drinks were chargeable. Things got a bit messy in Toronto, the baggage carousel broke down and we waited an hour for our cases, then our flight to Calgary was delayed by an hour meaning we didn’t meet up with our daughter until after 10pm. The Goose Island IPA in the Irish pub was excellent if expensive although I later found out that it is now brewed by Interbrew, which knocked the gloss of a bit. We made it to our hotel and went straight to bed, tired from the journey.
The first thing we’d promised ourselves was a proper Canadian brunch, we left it to Laura to decide where and she chose The Beltliner Cafe. A great pick, I had Eggs Benedict with Hutterite bacon (me either) and the most wonderful hash browns. I cannot recommend this establishment highly enough, great servers, great atmosphere and a really good feed. An early treat which set us up for the rest of the day. At this point it might be worth saying that although Canadians appear to love eating out it isn’t cheap. My meal was about £12 with coffee but when in Rome and all that.
We had some time to kill so we had a bit of a wander around Calgary drew some cash and went and sat by the river for a while, the weather was glorious.
A taxi to the hotel to pick up our bags and then on to the Hire Centre to pick up the camper and start out holiday in earnest. It had been over 10 years since I’d driven on the right and although I’ve driven large vans and the odd 7.5 tonner I’d never driven a camper van, I had Laura for a co-pilot though and she kept me right. We left Calgary for the short trip to Canmore to stock up on provisions and then on to Banff and our first camp site. Alberta is quite beautiful and we hadn’t been parked up for long before we were almost surrounded by grazing cow elk, although all the signs warn you not to get too close, especially during calving season, they seemed quite at home and simply ignored me.
Day 3 saw Mrs C and Laura catch the bus into Banff where Laura has some friends. Although there are warnings not to wander too far when alone (this is bear country), I went for a walk in the woods with my camera, hoping to maybe get a shot of a Bull Elk or possibly even a bear. Fortunately for me, I think, I saw neither but I enjoyed the hour or so. Living in the Lake District one gets used to peace and quiet but this was different. When they returned we set off on another short hop up to Lakes Louise and Moraine via Johnston Canyon, named after a gold prospector who was one of the first none indigenous people to see it. This was to be the first of the hikes we undertook and the first of the natural wonders we would see, it doesn’t disappoint if you like that sort of thing, a 6km or so return hike takes you past breathtaking scenery including several waterfalls and I do like a waterfall.
From Jonston Canyon we went to Lake Louise which was still partly frozen and is quite beautiful, the glacial water has a blue colour that we don’t see much in the UK. Louise has a large luxury hotel on its shore and is very busy, lots of coaches full of Chinese, Japanese and Northern European tourists were there at the same time as us but we really wanted to see Moraine Lake which apparently was even more beautiful. Access to Moraine is limited and only a small number of RV’s (camper vans) and coaches are allowed to use the road at any given time and we couldn’t get up to it so we carried on to our excellent Parks Canada camp, had a meal and a couple of beers and made it our business to get up early for another try at seeing Moraine Lake. We weren’t disappointed.
Moraine Lake is truly stunning, it wasn’t seen by anyone but a small number of indigenous peoples until well into the 19th century and words don’t do it justice. Its fed by a mountain glacier and several streams and was one of the real highlights of the first week of our trip. From Moraine we set off on what would be the longest drive so far, along the Ice Fields Highway to Jasper. Along the way we stopped at Sunwapta Falls, another force of nature, and drove past the Columbia Glacier, truly imposing. We saw a bear, blithely grazing away at the side of the road and managed to get ripped off (for the only time) at a mountain resort with gas station where I was charged 50c a litre over the odds for “regular gas”. We arrived in Jasper in plenty of time to ride the Skytram, a cable car which goes to the top of Whistlers mountain and offers marvellous and panoramic views of Jasper town and the surrounding Rocky Mountains.
Still only Day 4, the weather was holding up and once again the park, a couple of miles outside Jasper was excellent. We decided we’d earned a night out and called a taxi into Jasper where we ate at a branch of Earls, an excellent chain with good beer and great food. We ended the evening with ice cream for dessert, sat in the park opposite Jasper Railway Station and considering, each in our own heads, just how lucky we were to be here.
Day 5 should have been one of the top five highlights of the whole trip and we set off for our Blue River Safari with great expectation. We’d been told there was no need to book but we ended up waiting over 2 hours, during which time we ate a very average over priced “bison burger”, to take a silent tour round a flooded lake. The hype about this place (unless we were really unlucky) doesn’t measure up to the offer. No river, no bears, no other wildlife, poor food and surly (Australian) staff. One to avoid IMHO. We left feeling a little glum, but only because of the expectation (I think) and set off to our next site, Pinegrove RV Park.
We hadn’t been driving very long when we saw up ahead what I at first took to be an accident. This is a two lane highway with huge trucks, RV’s driven by novices and local pick up drivers tearing up and down it, a crash wouldn’t have been a great surprise. What we did see was a surprise though, not 30 yards away from us was a young Grizzly Bear grazing on young dandelions. Some people were out of their vehicles taking pictures but Laura warned me that this was not a good thing to do. Although the bears normally ignore humans that they don’t perceive as a threat they are unpredictable and best observed from a distance. The picture isn’t great but I thought you might want to see it anyway. Not everyone gets to see a Grizzly in the wild.
We ate in the RV and left Pinegrove for the last leg of the first week, driving via Pemberton, Lilloett and Joffrey Lakes to Squamish for our first 5 night layover, along one of the scariest stretches of road I have ever negotiated. A lot of the time it runs above the valley of the imposing Thompson North river, often without barriers, very challenging. When we got to Lilloett we missed the turn for Pemberton but Mrs C noticed and we pulled off into what I thought was a bit of waste ground. We’d only just parked up when three cars full of what turned out to be Japanese descended women pulled in. The sign explains why they were there better than I ever could.
We left Lilloett after a lunch in the RV and carried on through very rural British Columbia on our way to Joffrey Lakes (Highlight week 1). This was where I started to notice the phenomenon of the domestic scrap yard. Just about every house had several cars, trucks and pick ups in a side yard, many of them rusted and with weeds growing through them. Laura thought that these were houses owned mostly by “First Nation” peoples and they seemed to be unable to let anything go, even though they were now living a sedentary life rather than the hunter/gatherer lifestyle of their ancestors. Following our hike at Joffrey Lakes we carried on to Squamish, arriving at Mountain Fun RV Park at 8pm, tired but full of the wonder that is Canada. Day 7 saw me find a couple of pubs, do some shopping and Mrs C and I took it easy as Laura was working. She popped round in the evening and we had a bite to eat, discussing all the things we’d seen and done over the previous few days.
© Coloniescross 2018