Category Archives: Canada 2017
Ketchikan here we come
We awake to our first day at sea with gloomy weather on the port side and gloomy weather on the starboard side and gloomy weather ahead of us and gloomy weather behind us. It is rainy and foggy as we push out across Princes Charlotte Sound bound for Ketchikan in a days time. We are following the Inside Passage up British Columbia’s coast and then cross the border with Alaska just north of Port Rupert, where we had been a few days before. However, we are using a different channel to the one we did with the BC Ferries trip down from Prince Rupert. We are further off the coast in ‘wider’ water.
In a way its lucky we are having this weather as it is helping put out the fires that are still burning away. We are also at sea for a full day and can enjoy a quiet day on board. It is a formal night and people on board are really into this. Allthego and Homealone left their best behind as did a good many others. No one seemed to worry and we ate in the non formal area, the Italian restaurant. A very nice meal indeed. It was also time for the champagne waterfall, quite a performance with numerous bottles being poured by guests over the stacked glasses. Not sure what happens to the champagne though when it’s all over. Entertainment for the night was a ‘British Invasion ‘ show, with music from the 60s/70s from all those British musicians of that era.
We arrived in Ketchikan with improved weather, a little misty rain in the morning cleared out and we had some sun and a cloudy blue sky for the afternoon. Ketchikan is one of the wettest places on the north-west coast and can get up to 13 ft of rain a year, a sunny blue sky day is a rarity we were told. We were off the ship early for a tour of the temperate rain forest and a chance for wild life sightings along a salmon stream. Another black bear was spotted in the water, along with plenty of bald eagles in the trees. A short visit to a ‘animal hospital’ allowed a close up of a bald eagle and a few other birds of prey. These guys had been injured and rehabilitated but could not be released back into the wild because of their conditions.
The late morning saw us back in town checking out the town and its historical Creek Street area, back in the gold rush days of the late 1800s this area was home to the ladies of the night, some of the original buildings have been preserved, although now housing eateries and souvenir shops. The creek beneath the street is also a prime salmon run to a lake at the top. Salmon travel to the lake for spawning and having done so die shortly thereafter, if not the victim of bears, and get washed back down. They litter the banks of the stream and there is a strong odour of dead fish in the air.
Back on board ship at 1.30 pm we headed out for the passage north to Juneau and then Skagway.
North to Alaska
We have arrived back in Vancouver from Port Hardy and are spending the night in town before leaving the next day aboard Star Princess for a journey up the Inland Passage to Skagway and then across the Gulf of Alaska to Anchorage. BUT we are actually already in Anchorage and I am doing another of those series of catch up blogs, blogging at sea is a painful process with slow internet speeds so I have had a few days away from the typewriter.
We have no great issues in boarding the ship except it takes forever! We lined up a little before 1 pm with a plan to have lunch on board. But there are 3 ships leaving and all the boarders are being processed through the same queues. A best estimate is that there were about 6-7,000 people queuing up. Then once through the ship signing up process it was off to get through Uncle Sams border protection processes. Allthego was getting a little restless with the bureaucracy but was held in check by Homealone. Americans and Canadians had their special line and the ROW was strung out in queues that wound their way back and forth across the terminal. There was a minor drama when Allthego had to go off behind the scenes because his electronic visa for the USA didn’t seem to be registered on their computers. The border protection person was a little confused because Allthego had a valid paper copy on file for reference. It was all ok though with things tidied up by a more senior official. We finally bordered after 2 and half hours. All this proves Allthego’s general boarding approach of arriving late in the process and missing all the queues.
Our departure day is quite gloomy with cloudy and rainy skies to see us off around 4.30pm from the dock at Canada Place. The cruise staff try their best to wind our fellow cruisers up. But it is a little subdued. Allthego and Homealone try to contribute to the frivolities as well as featuring on the ship’s big screen as we sail away out of Vancouver Harbour.
Homealone won a small prize for being part of the winning team in the ‘how many feet can fit in a hula hoop’ contest. A close examination of the photo below will see her in the lower left corner of the photo. This was quite an achievement. If you can’t quite make her out you can click on the photo and it will blow up bigger.
The ship with flags flying seems to just slide under the Lions Gate Bridge as we head out into English Bay and then head north through the Georgia Strait for Alaska. This strait takes us north between Vancouver Island and the mainland past Port Hardy, from which we had flown to Vancouver from 2 days before.
We go to bed a little late after going along to the Welcome Aboard concert. We are in a cabin high up in the ship on deck 12 gazing out at the gloomy skies as we make our way up the Georgia Strait.
If you go down to the woods today
We are finally at rest in Port Hardy for a couple of nights after the long boat trip down the Inland Passage from Prince Rupert. Allthego had booked the Pioneer Motel on Booking.com and hadn’t paid much attention to it’s location. It is about equidistant from the ferry terminal and the town, 6 km in either direction. It is also very aptly named. It is a circa 1950/60s establishment probably done up from time to time, but not much. The room had that funny lived in feeling with a musty overlay of humankind, perhaps the odd fish or two had also been in residence from time to time. The electrics were a bit average, when you plugged something in the lights or whatever else you had on went off. The power point was loaded up with plugs and you wobbled it around a bit to get the power to work. The people were really helpful though and pointed out the scenic features of the 6 km walk into town along the river bank through the woods. The salmon were running and the bears were out they said. Only black ones, no grizzlies on Vancouver island.
We caught a cab into town and had lunch at Captain Hardys. this establishment was named after Vice Admiral Hardy who commanded The Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson was the Admiral. The calamari was really good, as was the Fat Tug IPA Allthego had later on our walk to the marina. The marina being about half way back to the Pioneer Motel. The memorial to the Carrot campaign is a prominent feature, this was installed after ‘carrots were dangled’ in front of politicians to get the road paved through to Port Hardy. The campaign was ultimately successful.
But the highlight of the day was our ‘walk in the woods’ back to the Pioneer in the early evening, 7 pm or so. It was getting a bit dim under the tree canopies as we walked the trail. Evidence of bear was sighted on the path, relatively fresh too. We paused to look at the stream on an old rustic bridge. It was full of salmon thrashing around in the shallows.
Then out of the under growth came the black bear. It stood on the bank and perused the salmon, before wading into the stream and across to the other side. It wasn’t interested in catching any salmon. Maybe it had already had its fill, perhaps the salmon were not good enough! What a sight!
We rather hurriedly moved on up the trail as darkness set in, occasionally looking back over our shoulders.
Now if we hadn’t stayed at the Pioneer Motel we wouldn’t have seen that bear!
We are now back in Vancouver having flown down from Port Hardy. The next stage of the journey begins when we board the Star Princess and head north to Alaska.
Ferry from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy
The trip on the ferry down the Inside Passage to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island is going to be a lengthy day on the water. We board the Northern Explorer in Prince Rupert at 6 am for a 6.45 am sail off and are due in Port Hardy at 10 pm, as it turns out we end up being an hour late and don’t get there till 11 pm. It takes another hour to disembark, collect luggage and get to the hotel. Breakfast, lunch and dinner aboard. We have one stop along the way that takes about an hour.
We have had a pleasant day in Prince Rupert wandering around and also enjoyed some Pacific cod fish n chips at the Breakers Pub overlooking the marina area. Port Rupert is a container terminal and is a general export facility to China and Asia. It is actually closer to these markets than Vancouver and Seattle and therefore has a cost advantage.
As we set off it is a cloudy day and the coastal mountains are shrouded in a smoky haze, the islands seaward are clearer. The one dominant feature of the journey is the trees. They cover the steeply rising land on either side of the passage. We pass these trees at about 20 knots for around 400 km. It’s a lot of trees to pass by.
The passage is a waterway for fisherman as well and we see many and varied vessels. At our stop off at Klemtu, a little over half way down the passage, there is a resident whale performing as the vessel is docked.
We see more of these majestic creatures as we move further south. There are a number of red and white light house complexes marking key points along the route.
There is not a lot more to say. The time passes relatively quickly but after the sun sets around 8 pm things start to drag a bit as we start to count down the km to Port Hardy and bed, at the Pioneer Motel. As we are to find out the Pioneer Motel is aptly named.
On the train again
After 10 days in the Rockies we are heading back to the coast on Via Rail Canada’s ramble through northern British Columbia. This is a day and half rail trip to Prince Rupert on the coast, with an overnight stop at Prince George where we all get off the train and head for overnight accommodation. Coming into Jasper to the train station from our cabin there is a whole lot of commotion beside the road. Cars are stopped all over the place in order to view a herd of elks (?), they are females and young ones it seems……….males have antlers, lying in the middle of the river on a gravel bank. Interesting location for a herd of elks to lie around!
Prince Rupert lies just south of the Alaskan border. Part of this route takes us through what National Geographic has labelled one of its 10 great train trips. It is a remote part of the country but the Trans Canada Hwy follows us along the way that was hacked out of the mountains by the railway builders in the early 1900s. We go past Mt Robson, cloud covered, and at 12,972 ft Canada’s highest peak. Many lakes and streams are passed by. We also see our first black bear in the wild, a brief glimpse as the train scoots by. A little later Allthego saw another one but was too slow with the camera, or the train was too fast!
Our stop over in Prince George was brief, just enough time to go to bed and then get up to get back on the train the next morning for breakfast as we headed off to Prince Rupert. While waiting to board the train one of the local First Nations peoples explained the meaning of some of his artwork on display in the Information Centre attached to the station. It turns out that he had been locked up for a few years and had found new meaning in his life whilst inside and was now working at trying to reconnect his people to their traditions as well as live in the ‘new’ world. A story we hear all to much of in Australia with our indigenous people.
We have a couple of nights in Prince Rupert before boarding the BC Ferries ferry that will take us down the southern part of the Inland Passage to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
I can see clearly now the rain, oops smoke, has gone!
We awoke on our last day in Jasper to a valley full of mist and fog, couldn’t see any smoke. About 10 am the mist and fog had lifted and we had a relatively clear sky and the smoke had almost all gone. So we were off down to the Columbia Icefield to do the Athabasca Glacier Adventure and the Sky Walk. Homealone had already decided to pass the Skywalk opportunity. It is about an hour and half down the road, but we stopped here and there for some clearer pictures of the mountains and the valleys. There are a lot of mountains and valleys and as a result a lot of pictures as well.
We arrived at the Icefields Centre around 12.30pm and found out we had to wait about 2 hours to get a slot on the tour, it was going to be long day as the tours went for around 2.5 hours. So Allthego had an expensive lunch of a very average semi warm burger and chips, Homealone had some luke warm soup and some of the chips. We then watched a documentary type film on the mountains. It was an arty thing. As a young boy this chap finds a small rock on a mountain walk, carries it with him for years and then as a 20s something on a snow shoe hike across a glacier it falls out of his pocket into a crevasse, then many years later as an old bloke he is walking around the mountains and finds the rock again. He puts it in a stream for someone else to find………………great scenery …………a bit mystical…..there was a message to it all I suppose.
The film filled in some time and we set off in the big troop carrier up the side of the Athabasca Glacier, then climbed up a steep track over the side moraine and then down onto the glacier. There was a grader on the ice keeping a track clear for us as we progressed towards the centre. There were about 6 of these big buses, they hold about 50 people. So there were about 300 people on the ice in the roped off area. Homealone had joggers on so she was slipping around a bit on the ice, Allthego’s hiking boots gave a bit more grip but care was still required. An Indian chap in sandals kindly loaned his walking stick for balance. There were a lot of selfie takers in action all jockeying for positions.
You didn’t really see much of the features of the glacier so it was like going for a short walk on a big ice block. The glacier has been retreating since the late 1800s at about 30 m a year, there are various pictures around to prove this. The glacier I think is about 3 km long (will stand to be corrected and will check) so at the current rate it will be gone in about 100 years and probably not impressive in 50. But it has been coming and going periodically over the last 10,000 years or so. Interesting experience being actually on a glacier, but Allthego has been on a bit of hard packed slippery snow before. The Icefields Centre also runs small party trips on the glacier looking at the features to be found there, crevasses, fissures and so on. That would be different.
After this we headed off to the Skywalk. This is one of those high up places hanging over a deep gorge. The Sunwapta River is about 1000 ft below. Now this is selflie taker paradise! Allthego had no trouble getting one of the guides to take a few pictures of himself out on the Skywalk. Pretty good views up and down the valley. Great spot and well done! Homealone had gone back to the Icefields Centre for a cup of tea.
Allthego finished up bout 6pm on the Skywalk and we headed back to Jasper. Going through town we stopped for dinner. Readers will remember the big bull elk from the last blog. Well Allthego thought he would try some Elk meatloaf at the Jasper Brewing Company. Quite tasty with the mushroom and bacon sauce. Homealone didn’t have this and neither of us can remember what she had.
We crawled into bed at the cabin around 11pm. We leave Jasper in the morning aboard the Via Canada train for Prince Rupert out on the coast.
We stayed at Jasper for 3 days. Weather has continued to be good, however the smoke has persisted and for the first 2 days we have ‘pottered’ around the general Jasper township area. Washing duties called and we spent a pleasant hour and half in the towns laundromat. It is an advanced laundromat with structured pricing based on the size of the machines. There are $5, $6 and $7 machines and there are quite a lot of them. While waiting for the washing you can have coffee and cake at the onsite coffee shop. If you are feeling a little dirty yourself you can have a $5 shower at the onsite bathroom, the loos are free. It was quite a busy place.
Our cabin is a little over 50 km from Jasper and located just off the highway to Edmonton. It is up in the hills and looks down a tree-lined valley with mountains towering around us. If not for the smoke the views would have been great. Although the smoky hazy outlook is eerie late in the afternoon.
There are a few hot springs in the Banff/Jasper National Parks. The one at Miette, about 25 km away from our cabin claims to have the hottest flow, having to be cooled from over 50 C down to about 40 C. There are 4 pools at the complex. The real hot one, a less hot one, a cooler sort of one and real cold one. The waters, not unlike all these sort of springs, lay claim to regenerative powers. Allthego had a plunge in the real hot one. It was full of all sorts, including some real hot ones, some less hot ones, some cool ones and a lot of cold ones. After walking around in the hot pond for a while he tried his toe in the real cold one, it was real cold and there was no one in it. One lad did plunge in but got out quick. As for the regenerative powers, other than for looking a bit pink, Allthego noticed no difference in himself from/after the experience.
On the way back from Miette we looked closely along the roadway for wild life having been told that this could be a good area to spot bear. None was sighted. BUT near the junction with the main road there was a big bull elk just grazing away seemingly oblivious to all the stopped cars and onlookers . It was almost as though the Trading Post people, where we had stopped to buy some milk, had him tied up behind their sheds and had brought him out for show in the afternoon. A few intrepid photographers got up quite close but stepped back quickly when the big fellow started coming their way.
In the Jasper township itself there are the usual array of shops of all types, but we have never seen a Grandma shop before. It was full of Grandma stuff. There is a big old Mountain class steam engine on display near the railway station. Built in 1923 it has 6 foot 1 inch drive wheels, carries 10,000 galls of water and 17 ton of coal. It was used on the railway to Jasper. A big beast!
In wandering around the Jasper lakes and gardens we have noticed a thorny plant with small roundish red fruits. They are the Alberta Rose, but we had not seen any flowers; being past the flowering season it seems. But outside the railway station, of all places, we spotted 2 pink flowers….late season bloomer! What a special looking flower display these would make.
Our last day in Jasper draws near and we hope for the smoke to clear so that we can get back down the Icefields Parkway to the Columbia Icefield.
Smoke gets in your eyes
We have moved on a fair bit in our travels and are now at Prince Rupert on the British Columbia coast. Blogging has been a bit slack. This is mainly because our stay in Jasper was in a cabin set up about 50 km out-of-town and the internet unreliable, we have also had some long days out and about. So Allthego has got to get a move on and catch up with the story.
On our last day in Lake Louise we took off up the Icefields Parkway to see some of the lakes just north of the town. On leaving it was noticeable that there had been a considerable increase in the smoke blowing across from British Columbia. The wind seems to have changed direction. The mountains were shrouded in it and the sky was a very pale blue. So in our travel up the road we decided to ‘look down’ and not ‘look up’. We went as far as Lake Peyto which, despite the smoky air, was still a spectacular view and Lake Bow was a pretty spot to stop for lunch beside the water.
We turned around here and returned to Lake Louise. The Lake put on an eerie look early in the evening with sun setting behind the mountain ridge line and shining through the smoky air. Back at the hotel the sun was a red ball sinking behind the mountains.
The next morning we left Lake Louise to move on to Jasper, 230 km up the Icefields Parkway. We passed by some of the sights of the day before, the smoke was considerably thicker. We had intended to stop at the Columbia Icefield, about half way to Jasper, to do the tour of the Athabasca Glacier and then wander out on the Glacier Skywalk. Because of the smoke situation we decided against this and hoped for a clear day while at Jasper so we could come back to it.
Our wildlife sightings took a quantum leap with the appearance of some Mountain Goats beside the road. Still no bears, elks or moose. The goats though put on a good show, like the deer a few days before they seemed to enjoy the gravel beside the road.
Closer to Jasper we stopped by the Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls. Quite spectacular flows of waters through rocky canyons. At the Athabasca Falls it seems that every couple of years someone falls over and gets washed away, no hope. There are a number of plaques on seats around the place recording their passing. Not places for brinksmanship.
We finally reached our cabin accommodation late in the evening and had dinner on the restaurant balcony, gazing into a smoky valley below.
We have left Banff and are now at Lake Louise. This is not far up the road and we chose to follow the Bow Valley Parkway, rather than the main drag. This took us past the Vermilion lakes again and up along the valley beside the train line.
Just south of Lake Louise is Morant’s Curve, a famous photo stop. Trains come around a long sweeping curve beside the Bow River, framed by the mountains behind. We pulled up here and selected a spot for the photo (got to edit out that car and foreground in due course!), only problem was…… would a train arrive and when. A couple of intrepid photographers had beat us to the best position and had their tripod and camera set up. They had been waiting there for 3 hours. Within minutes of Allthego taking up position a train could be heard approaching. The excitement was intense. Around the bend it came, a big freight train. Click, click, click….you could go on for ever. Homealone counted 140 carriages. The last carriage went past and off we went.
Lake Louise was not far off and we arrived around lunchtime. People everywhere. Lake Louise Village is about 25 minutes away from the lake. Other than for the famous old Fairmont Hotel (the one that is in all the pictures) beside the lake there is no other accommodation there. It is all down the road and in the Village. The traffic is a nightmare getting to the Lake.
We settled into our room down in the Village and late in the afternoon headed for Moraine Lake. Moraine Lake is about 16 k from Lake Louise and the traffic is also a nightmare. The park people block the road and only let cars through as cars come out, but after about 4 in the afternoon you can get in fairly easily. It is a wonderful place and you here people say it is actually better than Lake Louise. It is certainly less developed than Lake Louise.
The next morning we went to Lake Louise, it was a Monday so the traffic was a little thinner. Well, what a special place. People everywhere, all taking selfies again. The weather was great, the sky relatively clear of smoke.
The water at Moraine Lake tends to stay blue most of the year whereas at Lake Louise it is now that milky green colour (other times of the year it tends to blue), apparently this is because there is more active glacial action at Louise. The glaciers above the lake grind up the rock into a flour like consistency, this gives rise to the milkiness……….
We had lunch on the balcony at the Fairmont, a burger for Allthego and a steak sandwich for Homealone. A great view.
As to which lake is the best………….all the people, and there were hundreds, crowding around the edge at Lake Louise tended to take away the spectacle of the view. So Allthego votes for Moraine Lake.
Back to the hotel for dinner after a short stop at the old Lake Louise Railway Station. There are no train services here anymore, the freight trains still pass by, and the station has been turned into a restaurant. We plan to eat here one night.
Along the Bow River Parkway
Our last day in Banff sees us head off in the orange Jeep along some of the short drives around the town’s environs and then along the Bow River Parkway towards Lake Louise. The weather has been excellent if not a little hot, getting up in the high twenties, and the winds have been as such to blow the smoke away for us. So the skies have been pretty clear with a faint haze of smoke when the sun gets a bit low in the sky.
Our first stop was at the Vermilion Lakes. These are not the same type of lake as Lake Louise , but are actually wet lands with marshy areas around them and they are relatively shallow. There is supposed to be lots of bird life here and we saw some Canada Goose strutting around in the marshy places and lots of ducks digging in the mud near the edge. Bears are also supposed to like this place. The only bears we have seen though are the stuffed ones in the shops.
Lake Minnewanka is at the other end of Banff and seems to be the place where the locals go for their time off. There is a café here, canoes to hire and also the much publicized Boat Cruise on the Lake. It is quite a large body of dammed water with what appears to be a small hydro power plant. We encountered a mob of deer on the side of the road, seemed to be mum deer with a number of relatively new-born hanging nearby. They got a bit skittish if you got too close, apparently they will have a run at you if they feel threatened.
The Bow Valley Parkway is the old road that linked Banff with Lake Louise until the Trans Canada Highway was built. The two roads run alongside each other on opposite sides of the Bow River. Lower down beside the river runs the railway line on which we travelled in the Rocky Mountaineer, no wonder the scenery was looking a bit familiar! At least though we could stop here and there for a good look!
Spent a little time at Johnston Canyon, this is an old tourist spot dating from early 1900s. We set out along the pathway leading to the lower falls, however Homealone pulled out of the walk when it continued along a walkway attached to the side of the canyon. Allthego continued and found there were a further two such suspended walkways before reaching the falls. A good view was had of these by going through a narrow tunnel for a few metres to a small viewing area. The only problem was there was a queue to do this, made up of a lot of selfie takers at the other end. An endless wait of self indulgence! Now if you think Allthego has a problem here then you are right! One or two selfies is fine, but there has to be a limit……………or does there?
We left the Parkway at Castle Mountain and went down the road towards Kootenay National Park. Down this way there is a spot that marks the Continental Divide, there are a number of these markers down through the Rockies and their importance rests in dividing British Columbia from Alberta. On the western side water flows to the Pacific and on the eastern side towards the sea to the north of Canada and the Atlantic.
There is a drop loo just on the British Columbia side and Allthego thought he would contribute to the Pacific flow, there was no such facility on the Alberta side. The road down here also ran in places beside the Vermilion River, a glacial fed shallow milky green stream racing across a rocky bottom.
We returned to Banff along the Trans Canada Highway, a speed way compared to the Bow Valley Parkway. We now head for Lake Louise.