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Published: August 25th 2014
Note: - Apologies in advance for this longish blog, but the trip is difficult to break into 2 parts so we have taken a risk and kept the story together. Banff
We leave Calgary early for the drive to Banff as the campsite we are interested in is a FCFS. It takes more time than we think to load the car - almost forgetting the food in the fridge! But then we're off and the journey is easy; roads not too busy and we're travelling along the Trans Canadian (TC) Highway 1 which goes all across Canada. A positive we find with the car we have (a saloon), rather than the SUV types we have had previously, is that it's very economical; about $40 (circa £22) to do 275 miles.
At first the scenery is a bit plain but as we get closer to the snow-capped mountains of the Rockies, the countryside becomes more interesting with hills, forests and lots of warnings of bears and elk in the area - not that we see any! As we already have our Park passes (bought in Vancouver) we sail past the queue for Park entry
fees - good call. Tip for travellers - as they charge a day rate for all NPs in Canada, the advice is that if you are staying in NPs for more than 7 days its better value to buy an annual pass for $67.50 each.
We get to Two Jack Lakeside campsite at 9-15am to see a full sign already!!! What! The reason we really wanted this site is partly because it's on the lake and has awesome views apparently, but also it has showers, which the other bigger site in this area doesn't have. Two Jack Lake is an extension of a larger lake called (don't snigger!) Lake Minnewanka! It's surrounded by mountains and pretty scenery.
Chatting to the guy on duty he says they changed the booking system recently so the whole site is reservable - and as a result completely booked up for the next 7 nights. We're not impressed - not his fault but we contacted Parks Canada months ago and we're told some sites were reservable but not available until 2 months in advance, and others FCFS. When we tried to reserve 2 months before, we were then told that they had
booked them at 3 months in advance, so we missed the boat but there were still some FCFS. Now it appears this has changed again - or we've been given duff info!! The only local site with spaces is Two Jack Main which gets good reviews but isn't on the lake and has no showers.
The only other site with showers that is FCFS is some 40 minutes away and fortunately, the chap at the site calls ahead to be told that they have no vacancies. So we stick with other local option. They charge C$21.50 per night plus another C$9 if you want to have a fire! It's warm so we decide to do without.
Putting the tent up we are surprised by the number of mosquitos. Big buggers too!! So it's out with the super strength Deet and we're more or less ok - some of them are pretty persistent and we soon rediscover our mossie squishing skills.
The site is amongst lots of trees - a bit like Yellowstone, with a fire pit and table, though the ground is rock hard so getting the tent pegged is a challenge. The facilities are pretty
good - better than the US Park sites, as the toilets have hot water, there's a picnic shelter with stove (if you have wood) and hot water, and also a cold water sink. We're in active bear territory; half the campground is closed off because of bear activity. Fortunately we still have our bear sprays from the US so they are now our constant companions.
Next stop Banff ‘s Visitor Centre. The young woman who helps us is very good at recommending eateries & gives us lots of tips on good hikes so we don't have to join the separate and very long queue for this info; thanks.
Banff is quite like a European alpine town - all A frame log buildings, and quite a few are from the late 1800's when the town was first established. It's surrounded by jagged mountains, some with snow on, and reminds us of Bariloche in Argentina and Torres del Paine in Chile. Banff Ave is the main street but there are a few streets running perpendicular that have shops and eateries too. This is a major tourist destination in winter for skiing, and an activity centre in summer. There
are shops for outdoor equipment, high street stores such as GAP & McD's, many eateries and a couple of supermarkets too.
They have horse drawn carriages for the tourists in town (the majority seem to be from China, Japan and Korea, quite a few Indians & folks from the Middle East). They also have hand pulled rickshaws, which we've only seen before in Asakusa in Japan, and Calcutta of course (where really toil for their money). Here as in Japan it's the Tourist $ for a trip around the block. One thing we have noticed is that many folk working in the service industry are Aussies or Kiwi's - obviously cheap labour while on their extended work visa. We wonder if the local economy would survive without them.
We get a good coffee and free Wi-Fi at Second Cup Cafe then go to the GAP sales who come up trumps for both of us for T shirts and C finds some awesome cowboy boots at Lammle's - the difficult decision is which pair to buy, so decides to sleep on it. Not for long enough M feels!!!
It's a hot day so we decide to do
a local walk along the Bow River running past the town. It's short and flat & we get some nice pics along the way. We do the walk again later in the week as far as the Falls - though to be fair they're not really falls at all - more a series of extreme rapids! We find busloads of tourists - mainly SE Asian - at the bottom; not sure why it's such a feature other than there’s precious little else to see. Then it's back to town for a well-deserved Cow's ice cream (supposedly one of the top 10 in the world). The maple walnut is awesome but we've had better Mocha Almond Fudge.
Back at the ranch we cook up a nice pork supper and retire for a good sleep. Which it would have been if we'd brought the sleeping bags into the tent! We thought it would be too warm but no way we're going out in the middle of the night to get them with bears in the area!
It's Louise's birthday, so first stop is the cafe for breakfast and Skype. She's had a great few days celebrating, including going to Ascot,
and it's lovely to see her and Olive - who seems to be a right handful; always on the go, and discovering her voice it seems. We are able to keep up with family matters and her growing up via FB and Whatsapp! The wonders of new technology!
Next stop is the VC to see if there is anywhere local we can get showers. The recommendation is to go to the Hot Springs at the bottom of town; C$7-50 for use of the springs, showers etc. seems a good deal to us though in the end we don't try them; body washes in the tent are fine with hot water. Besides we have booked into a local B & B for 2 days for such an eventuality.
It's World Cup final day, so we go for a picnic lunch by the river and then go to a local pub (Elk and Oarsmen) to see the second half (and overtime as it turns out) of the game. The vast majority of folk are Germany supporters so they end the day happy. It's a reasonably good match and the Germans deserved to win. What was a sham was the prize
for best player of the tournament going to Messi - he definitely was not!
It's getting late so we go to Lake Minnewanka loop road and take a walk along the lakeside. It's really nice, with lots of folk enjoying the sun, sunbathing and swimming, lots of picnics and of course taking boat rides. We also see a family of Bighorn sheep that wander to the lake for a drink then head off. We decide this is a place we'll definitely come back to for a picnic and swim. (Shame the good weather didn't hold, so we didn't actually get to do this at all).
Back at basecamp getting ready for dinner, one of our neighbours arrives asking if we've seen the bear! Apparently he passed a small grizzly on the road just a 100 metres or so from our site. We take a good look around but can't see him, so decide to carry on with dinner
We're up early (and running the gauntlet of the mossies) we get off to Johnston Canyon via the Bow Valley Parkway which runs parallel to the TC1,but is supposed to be more scenic and better for wildlife viewing.
We get to the Canyon at 9-45am and it's already packed. By the time we finish cars are parked along the roadside for several hundred yards! Obviously a popular spot! The 3 mile walk takes you to lower and upper falls, along the side of the canyon. The water is a lovely clean blue and it's a pleasant walk through forest area and happily not that many mossies as it's quite cool by the canyon side. At the lower falls you can walk into a small cave that opens on the other side to face the falls - and get wet from the spray! The Upper falls are ok – not spectacular.
What we have noticed is how hazy it is despite the sunshine. Apparently there are 3 forest fires burning on the route up to Jasper and the wind is blowing south so bringing the smoky haze towards us. It also means the road is only open for a few hours in the morning; otherwise there are long delays, so we'll have to check for updates for when we travel up that way in a week's time.
We had planned to go only as far as Castle
Mountain and then back to Banff and swim at the Lake before meeting up with Emily (who we met in South East Asia, - on the same trip that we met Shelley). She is working locally as part of her Masters in nearby Canmore. Somehow we end up missing the turn off so decide to keep going to Lake Louise and have a picnic lunch there. Lake Louise
If we thought the Canyon was busy.....Lake Louise is choked! We drive round car parks for about 10 minutes before getting lucky. Obviously a place to get to early! The Lake itself is beautiful - blue water made milky by the glacial flour, with snow covered mountains as a backdrop, even in July. You can walk around it quite far & there are lots of folk out on canoes. Apparently this area has the highest concentration of people and bears! It's grizzly territory. Set in front of the Lake is a huge hotel that is supposed to look like a chateau. M can see why they call it a Chateau - Complete monstrosity according to C - a blot on the landscape.
Lake Louise village seems pretty small and
run by First Nations people. We are glad we didn't decide to stay here as it has much less to offer then Banff - although, surprisingly the fuel is cheaper. The village itself is a small collection of shops geared at tourists.
We meet up with Emily at Nourish, a vegetarian restaurant in Banff, unfortunately the food was pretty disappointing - no idea how it got a good rating on Trip advisor. It's great to see her and catch up on what she's been doing since we met in SE Asia. Interestingly, she tells us it's our fault she's now studying in this area. We gave a her a book to read - The Good Life (by Dorian Amos), about a couple from the UK who settle in the Yukon and apparently that book inspired her to want to work, if possible, in that part of the world and to do work with water (she studied engineering and is now doing her Masters in Hydrology). Glad we could help, Emily! After an enjoyable evening we say our goodbyes and call in at Second Cup to use their internet for a few messages.
Later we discover we have new
neighbours who seem to be the noisiest family. At 11-30 pm Dad starts reading a story to his teenage (!!) kids loud enough for the entire campsite to enjoy! Bless.
For some reason we oversleep the next day! Though happily we see the neighbours from hell pack up and leave. After a nice fruit breakfast, we head off to Yoho National Park, north of Lake Louise and supposedly the place that Rockies aficionados go to.
On the way to Yoho NP on the TC1 we decide that you definitely get better views taking this route than from the Bow River Parkway. We're not sure why all the hype about the Parkway. Yes it's quite pretty and is the access to many lookouts and walks, but you are mainly going through forest so don't get great views from the road, and the only wildlife we saw was a few deer.
We did learn something however. We pulled in at a lay-by which had a sign for the site of the Internment Camps; apparently in 1915, during WW1, all the Germans and Austrians resident in Canada were made prisoners of war (similar to the Japanese in the US in
WW2) and many of them were used as forced labour to build the roads that now serve the national parks. As the sign said - a little known part of Canada's history. Emerald Lake – Yoho NP
So on to Emerald Lake in Yoho NP and it really is lovely. We liked Lake Louise and this is comparable. After a coffee at the deli beside the lodge, and a few pics of snow-capped mountains and translucent emerald green waters, we have a lovely picnic lunch & hike the 3.5 miles lakeshore walk. It's described as wheelchair accessible, and we have a debate as we walk about whether or not that is correct, C being somewhat more optimistic about the assertion than a pragmatic M, until we hit a climb down over rocks and tree roots and C has to admit defeat!
We realise that the Rockies remind us of New Zealand - only they are much bigger. We're not sure if the scale is actually a negative in this case; somehow the scenery in NZ seemed more dramatic, possibly because it changed so much within relatively small distances.
As it's now quite late, we skip the
hike to Takakkaw Falls - we plan to be back here on Friday (though we don't actually make it, as the weather got worse - a combo of rain and smoke cloud).
Dinner prep is spent having a discussion about our future business venture; We engage in 'Stress Testing' the plan as M calls it, asking loads of difficult Q's according to C!! Useful all the same! (What could this be you're wondering? All will become evident later!) Lake Moraine & Lake Louise (again)
Next day it's back up to Lake Louise but this time via Moraine Lake, about 19kms away. It's Awesome - no other word for it!! Amazing blue water, that's clearer than Louise, it’s smaller and surrounded by towering peaks. Possibly the most beautiful lake we've seen - maybe even better than Tekapo in NZ!! There's a handy rock pile at the base (from an avalanche long ago) that gives a great viewpoint over the lake, and a lovely walk alongside the lakeside for just over a km that ends at a creek, with glacial water flowing down into the lake. C decides to test the water - that's how we know it's glacial
- absolutely freezing!! But a nice cooler for the mossie bites on her feet she says. (Also means C decides not to go white water rafting - too bloody cold!).
We had hoped to do the 6km round trip to Consolation Lake nearby which apparently has great views, but due to bear activity most of the trails are restricted to groups of 4 or more. We could go, but that would be foolhardy, so we take a very expensive coffee at the lodge then head off to Lake Louise for lunch and another walk. (As it turns out, M's right knee has been giving him trouble so perhaps the walk wouldn't have been a great idea after all).
At Lake Louise all the car parks are jammed so we park on the side of the road a little way from the lake and walk in. The temperature is a few degrees cooler than Banff though still warm (and much warmer than the norm July temp of 13C). It's a bit cloudy so not the best colour on the lake and the mountains. We also still have heavy haze from the forest fires. But it's still a nice setting.
As we walk alongside the lake we continue the discussion about the "Business Project", which is really useful in crystallising a few ideas - like where we might live, and why we want to do this. Seems M's ‘stress testing’ is quite useful after all.
At the end of the Lake we see a few rock climbers up the precipices. Why?? You don't get to see the views as you climb, and given that the rescue helicopter just paid a visit, it's obviously a risky business. Hats off to them though, it looks bloody hard.
Because the weather isn't great we spend some time mooching over the next few days. M FT's with Sarah which is nice and we see some great pics of Olive on Whats App - she's really onto and into everything it seems. M has nicknamed her Tornado courtesy of her Mum!
A good food discovery is Barpa Bills - a Greek burger joint where we have a Bison burger with tzatziki which is awesome - real Greek taste to it, and another time try the lamb burger and spanakopita - both fabulous.
The possibility of a Canoe boat hire on
the Bow River seems a good option so we go there to get ideas on best time etc - morning apparently and should get to see lots of wildlife. Weather permitting we'll do that in the morning. Unfortunately the weather doesn't permit and we don't get a chance after all. It’s been threatening to rain for 3 days now; it finally does, big time with thunder and lightning too. The place needs it though - the fire risk warnings are all "Extreme". Canmore & the Kananaskis Lakes
We had expected the rain to cool things down (it did, so less mossies - yeaah) and also help to clear some of the smoke haze. No such luck. In fact, it seems worse than yesterday. It also looks like it could rain again at any time, so we decide to head straight to Canmore for a look around.
We are pleasantly surprised. The Rough Guide made it sound pretty drear, but we think it's nicer than Banff; smaller, a more local feel but still with a good range of shops, eateries, cafés and surrounded by mountains. We only discover this last point later in the day when the haze
lifts a bit. Good choice Emily!
We see a nice coffee house (The Good Earth) which we plan to go to, but the young woman at the Visitor Centre suggests Beamers, just down the road. They do good coffee and free Wi-Fi so thanks. While we're on the net, we hear from Hertz that we need to go somewhere that has a fax machine as the only way they can fix the problem with the car booking (someone put the wrong month in on our booking so we've paid for 6 weeks but only have the car booked for 2!) is for us to go and sign a new contract. We still haven't heard back from Canadian Affair who we booked through. It seems to be Jaye (a Kiwi) - the depot Manager in Calgary who is taking the initiative in trying to fix the problem.
So at the recommendation of the VC we head off to Bow River Basics, an office supply company who kindly let us use their phone for free. Unfortunately, we can't sort the new contract out till Monday but at least we know that there is a solution. Eventually CA get in touch
and offer a £25 credit for the hassle; thanks guys.
Despite the smoke haze, it's a nice day so we head off to the Spray Lakes area for a drive. Unfortunately, it's a gravel road so we get lots of dust as we pass other cars, the haze blocks the views of the mountains around, and we see very little wildlife - though we do see a Bighorn Mountain sheep, loads of gophers (or prairie dogs), and on our return a Wolverine - which is a pretty rare spot.
We can imagine that this would be a beautiful route on a clear sunny day, as would the views from Mount Engadine Lodge where we stop for lunch. No food is being served at the time (they have 8 rooms and cater for folk who are out doing activities all day and then lay on a big tea for them later in the afternoon) but we get tea and coffee and they don't mind us eating a picnic sarnie on their balcony overlooking meadows where moose frequent - just not while we're there! This is possibly the best place we've been to in Canada alongside Moraine Lake; just beautiful.
The only downside of this road trip is the car now looks like it's been through a sandstorm - inside and out!
We decide we will come back as Canmore is so nice and we can do the rest of the gravel road though from the south by the Kananaskis Lakes, which are also supposed to be lovely.
Heading back to Banff we realise that we'll only get eaten alive if we go to the tent so spend a couple of hours in town then head back for a lovely pasta supper and our last night camping in Banff NP. The next 2 nights we have a B&B booked in Banff and then 2 nights in a hostel on the Icefield Parkway - if we can get there; the forest fires that have caused the haze are in that area and we just have to hope that they are under control enough for the road to be open.
Thankfully it's dry when we get up, though looks like rain will soon arrive. We decamp and go to Canmore for a coffee at Good Earth plus a Mediterranean scone - looked better than it tasted! Generally the air
is much clearer than yesterday - mountains and surrounding areas can be seen clearly. We drive down to the Kananaskis Lakes area about 100 km away. Even with better visibility the scenery is lovely rather than awesome. M isn't feeling great - poss has a cold coming on, which doesn't help. As we get closer to the lakes the weather closes in and it all looks a bit grim. We pass some interesting rock formations - lots of swirls and wave effects which remind you that this used to be an ocean.
We go as far as the road takes us to a point geared for fishermen though with nothing to see, so go to the Lower Lake picnic area nearby to find most of the trails closed due to bear activity, including those right next to the picnic area. We end up eating in the car park with the rain closing in! We decide we're not inspired enough in the mist and rain to go looking for more interesting stuff so drive back to Canmore for fuel (cheaper than Banff), and get some local Canadian Whisky - Alberta Premium; hope it's ok. Then it's back to Banff and
to Tan y Bryn B&B. We have quite a simple room with shared bathroom but at C$70 per night inc breakfast, it's good value and only 3 blocks from the centre of town. It's also great to have a shower at last.
We've booked breakfast, which is delivered on a tray to the room - tea, croissant, toast, and juice at 9am, and then it's off to the laundrette in town for an hour. (Expensive but needs must). The weather is hit and miss, although the haze from the fires has cleared and we have good views of the peaks around. As M isn't feeling great, and we're not as struck by the Rockies as we'd expected to be, we're not really inclined to go exploring. We had planned to take a canoe into the Vermillion Lakes but with rain on and off we don't fancy it (and we see later that the once blue clean water is now murky and brown) so we take a walk around town, C gets her boots (her birthday pressie she declares!) and then go to Bruno's, which is always packed, for lunch. Not sure why - the food was mediocre at best.
Then we head back and do the packing up for the trip to the Icefields Parkway tomorrow.
We've decided to get a pizza & wings take out from the Bear St Tavern for dinner, which we eat in the park. It's a great combo and really the best meal (home cooked aside) we've had here. A good way to finish! We're pretty sure that had the area not been so affected by the smoke we would have enjoyed the scenery more, but hey ho! Let's hope we get more from the Icefields and Jasper. Icefield Parkway – the best bit
Before we can get going we first have to visit Hertz in Banff Springs Hotel to sort out the contract for the car once & for all. It's another Aussie in the office and very helpful too. Eventually all is sorted thanks to Jaye's efforts. There's thunder and lightning, and we're not hopeful for a good day.
First stop as we head to Icefield Parkway is Bow Lake for the scenic view. Thankfully the weather is getting better. There's a nice walk here apparently but we don't have enough time as we need to get through
to other side of fire zone before 2-00 (after this they start closures etc as the wind picks up). Next stop is Peyto Lake for the walk to the lookout, which is packed with a bus load of Ukrainians! (Thought they were supposed to be at war - maybe that's why they're here!) There are lovely views of the lake - cloudy blue water, mountains beyond and a nearby glacier. The weather improving with more blue skies so it's much nicer scenery; at least we can see it!
We go through the fire zone area and realise how much of the forest was affected. There are still loads of folk working putting out the fires and shifting burned timber.
We get to the Icefield Centre just in time for a picnic lunch on the terrace with great views of the Athabasca glacier opposite. It's packed with tourists and folk queuing to buy tickets for the Skywalk and Glacier Adventure (you walk on a glass shelf over a ravine and go on a bus on the glacier! - not for us!). We take a walk to the toe of the glacier. It used to end where the Centre is
140 yrs ago, now it's way back, probably 3/4 of a mile away. You get a sense of how big it would have been from the moraine and also the year markers that show where the glacier extended to over the last 100 years. What's is evident is how the rate at which it has receded in the last 50 years, and even more in the last 30 years in particular. Lots of folk ignore the warning signs and walk on to the glacier but we decide to be sensible. It looks pretty impressive even though it doesn't really compete with Punto Moreno (Argentina) or Fox (NZ), but it's one of the highlights for us of this area.
Then it's on to the Beauty Creek Wilderness hostel for two nights via another viewpoint - mainly because we overshoot the turn off. The hostel has good views back along the valley and forward along the Endless Chain - mountains like sharks teeth along the valley. The Hostel is basic as it has no electricity (propane lamps a first for us) or running water (no mobile network for 60 odd miles either) and we have beds in a dorm room, but
as it's not fully booked Brian (the manager) gives us a room that we won't have to share (unless lots of walk ins arrive). It's in a lovely location in the valley. The website says it's a good place to see wildlife; Brian says no! And he’s right. Plenty of mossies though. We sit outside enjoying the scenery and a beer or two then go inside to start dinner, and walk into Emily! This is where she's staying while she does her mountaineering course (she did the ascent today; left at 2-45 am and finished 15 hrs later so she's knackered). She was due to drive home but decides to stay so we share some cheese and wine with her and chat awhile.
There's two other guys there - a chap doing a PhD in Glacial Geology (who seems to do most of his studies in Ireland & hadn't been on a glacier before today!) and his Professor, and a German woman called Agnes. After dinner we get a camp fire going and sit around chatting to 11-00 then bed. It's a good night’s sleep too as the room has a propane heater and lots of blankets.
morning we enjoy crepes cooked by Brian with jam and Nutella and fresh blueberries plus decent coffee. You make a contribution (suggested C$5) and it's a good way to start the day. We say bye to Emily again, then it's off to the Icefield Centre to use their facilities to freshen up. Along the way we stop at a few lookouts as there are great views in the sun of the glaciers - Stutfield, Snow Dome & Athabasca.
Today is a day for hikes and we start with Parker Ridge - a 2.5 km uphill climb but managed well using lots of switchbacks. There are great view of the mountains and glaciers as we climb. At the top we follow the path to the back of the ridge and get the most amazing views of the Saskatchewan Glacier and the lake and river below plus a beautiful emerald green lake hidden in the trees. It's the best hike we've done on this trip and probably the most impressive scenery on a short hike since Tongariro Crossing in NZ!
It’s back to the Icefield Centre for lunch and we chat to a guy from Ottawa about the economy etc.
He thinks Canada will do "an Iceland" within the next 5-10 years, which is a bit worrying given they're the 10th biggest world economy. Apparently all the jobs are in Alberta and elsewhere it's hard to find good jobs while property prices are sky high due to foreign investment. Sounds like London we think. While talking we have a brie and tomato roll for lunch with fruit (homemade, cost about C$6 total) whereas he just spent C$14 for some water, crisps and a banana at the centre! We're glad we planned our picnics.
After lunch we go to hike the Wilcox Trail. The trail starts through woodland (loads of mossies - C discovers a new game, smacking M while she kills them!) which opens up to grassy hillside with lots of wild flowers and good views of the Athabasca Glacier. Unfortunately it's gone cloudy so photo opportunities are not so good. We also need to be careful of M's knees as they have been playing up, so we decide not to go all the way up to the Pass, stopping at the meadow area, but it's a nice walk none the less.
Back at the hostel, we have
tea with Brian and new guest Jessica (a German doing a PhD on something to do with carbon and the glaciers!!). Brian's a great host - very friendly and relaxed. He cooks some awesome tomato bruschetta which we try. They are really good; something we will try at home. After a beer down by the river looking for wildlife that still doesn't appear, and dinner, C gets the fire going for a change - and does a good job, and we sit chatting until a woman arrives who appears to have no stop button on her mouth! (Perhaps that's why she is camping on her own without hubbie and kids - to give them some respite!). So tactically we hit the sack early. Jasper
Once again we sleep in! Up at 8-45 and into the kitchen for pancakes and coffee - and more of motormouth! Jessica is bearing the brunt of it so we just get on and eat. Then pack the car, say thanks and bye to Brian and we're on our way to Jasper along the north end of the Icefield Parkway. Lots of folk we've met have seen wildlife here so we're optimistic and go
quite sedately. No such luck.
Jasper is quite nice, a smaller town than Banff with none of the big chain stores, but still touristy and pretty busy. The main rail service comes in here from Vancouver and on to Montreal. We go into town first as campsite check in is at 2pm and do a reccie of the supermarkets plus go to the VC for info and a cafe for coffee and internet (The Other Paw), after 2 days of "silence". It's pretty hot - 27C so we enjoy the sunshine.
We're camping at Whistlers campsite, just outside town. It's not a bad site - in wood but not as dense as Banff so lots of light gets through. Also the facilities are better; it has showers in a central block, hot and cold water in the loo's and an outside washing up sink. Apparently bears are active in the area, though all we see are lots of squirrels and marmots. Unfortunately the forecast for the next couple of days is rain. We can always go to the cinema if it gets too wet?
It pours down in the night and most of the day too -
though stops just enough for us to get breakfast, and we spend most of the day mooching around town avoiding rain showers. We search in vain for a decent new brolly as all the ties on ours have broken - which we don't find so end up stitching the one we have to get it to work for another few days - we hope!!
For lunch we head to LouLou's Breakfast & Pizzeria for noodles and omelette for a change. It's not bad. They also have a sister restaurant - Soft Rock Cafe!! In the afternoon we go for a drive to the Jasper Lodge hotel by Lake Beauvert, opposite town. It's a really nice lodge facing onto a very blue lake and has great big comfy chairs!! We enjoy them. It also has some life size bears, with a real squirrel running all over them. As it seems to be the nearest we'll get to the things we get a pic. After showers, patching up the tent which has suddenly sprung a leak and a glass of wine we head back into town for dinner - again to LouLou's as we only want something light; chicken wings (most
of which are drumsticks) and a small veggie pizza do the trick. This seems to have become our "go to" light dinner. Its forecast to be cool overnight so we heat our thermals etc in the car and then hit the tent and spend the rest of the evening listening to the pouring rain (sounds like a cue for a song!).
Next day is a very dismal day. The tent is wet in places it's rained so much, though thankfully the sleeping area is dry. It's still raining - though not so hard, and it's very grey. We get up for tea and breakfast then decide it's cold and damp and the best place to be is back in bed!! At last blue skies are beginning to appear. Tomorrow onwards is forecast to be warm and sunny. So we head off to do a walk around the Valley of the Five Lakes, about 5 miles south of Jasper. It's a woodland walk, and quite damp but the lakes when we get to them are quite scenic - though not a patch on the Emerald or Moraine Lakes. Still it's nice to get out for some air and exercise. As
we drive we see a few cars stopped by the side of the road spotting local wildlife, but no bears - just elk and deer. We're beginning to think the whole bear thing is just a marketing ploy to get folk here!!! Back at camp the tent has dried out and we have dinner under blue skies - and for a very pleasant change, no mossies!
This is a good day!! We wake early to blue skies (though cold at 4C) and after a quick breakfast we head off to Maligne Lake, approx 45 kms away, which is supposed to offer a beautiful drive, lots of wildlife and an awesome lake setting at the end. The road goes through some pretty scenery and there are bits with mountains overlooking the river that have the potential to be good - other than we're seeing it through the mist that has descended! And we don't see any wildlife bar two deer. At the Lake the mist is firmly settled and we can see the lake and little more. So, time to head to the nearby lodge for a coffee and muffin (blueberry and almond and very, very good) and wait for
the sun to come through. As the mist lifts we can see snow-capped peaks all around and have to agree the setting is very beautiful.
The lake is a very clear blue-green, but not a competitor to Emerald or Moraine Lakes. There are boat trips to Spirit Island 14kms from the lodge, but at C$61 each we feel it's a bit pricey. Otherwise you can hire a canoe for a more reasonable C$30 per hour but it would take 4 hours to row there one way! We settle for just enjoying the views - snow in July has its upside in making the mountains look more dramatic. And then lots of folk get very excited, and so do we; a moose, in the lake about 100 m away. We can see it clearly though aren't really close enough for good pics, but at last, we've seen the one animal that had evaded us so far on our travels. As we move towards it, the moose heads off into the trees, so that decides us on which walk to do; the Mary Schaffer loop which circles the area the moose headed in to. We see another deer as we go
but that's all, though it's a pleasant walk along the lake then into the woods.
At the lodge they have a BBQ going but we resist and instead head off for our picnic lunch at a nice spot we'd seen earlier. Good call! The moose reappears, and we're completely in the right place to see him properly and get lots of pics. This is obviously his lunch break! He goes into water for a while but the fuckwits in canoes get so close to him he comes back onto the lake side and looks for another entry point. We decide we've seen enough so head off to have our lunch and just enjoy watching him through the trees. We're joined for lunch by a family of jays that happily pick up our crumbs, then its back to the car, very happy Larry's, and off to Jasper for coffee and internet.
It gets better! Just beyond Medicine Lake (very beautiful with towering mountains overlooking it, named because the First Nation folk believed the water had medicinal properties and which has a natural drainage system that causes it to drain in winter!), we join the tail end of a car-jam.
Thinking it's another deer we start to pass till M spots a black blob and realises it's a bear! It's a juvenile black bear who seems way more interested in eating than in all the folk snapping away at him - even the idiot Japanese guy who runs within 20 m of him! And so ends a happy day. Off to Kamloops tomorrow. Kamloops
Another early start as we have a 5.5 hour drive to Kamloops. The journey to begin with is through the Rockies, so high mountains, lots of pine forests, the Fraser River, which has the largest salmon stock in the world, and the occasional deer. Then we cross into BC again, and gradually the mountains become hills, though still lots of forests and rivers. Now we are tracking the North Thompson River. We stop at Blue River, a small town that seems entirely to exist for water sports, and have a tea and crap muffin, then keep on going to Kamloops.
A few observations about the driving here in Canada. Now we know that there are many visitors and rental cars, but the odds have to be that the majority of folk are Canadian.
And boy is the driving crap. Folks just seem to drive where they want to go regardless of others with right of way, indicators seem non-existent, and why not sit in the fast lane doing 20 below the speed limit! Perhaps we need to get our brains back to the rules for driving in India (there are no rules!) and maybe we wouldn't find it so stressful. It also doesn't help that most of the music on the radio is pretty rubbish; so nothing to distract or calm us. We do hear on the radio though about a case where a guy who was having an epileptic episode was shot by the police - one of a number of cases of people with mental or other illnesses apparently being killed by the police. It seems they are going to start giving training to try to prevent a "shoot first ask questions later" mentality - much like parts of the US.
As we are back in BC we gain an hour so we get here at 12-15pm. Not bad. And it's hot! About 31C – lovely! We're booked in to the Econolodge, just outside town and as the room isn't
ready we head to Harold's family restaurant next door for lunch and try an interesting crab cake Benny - poached egg on top of a crab cake with hollandaise sauce. Not bad. Then it's FaceTime with Sarah, get the room, shower, laundry and watch some TV!
We visited Kamloops as part of the Rocky Mountaineer train journey but got here so late we didn't get a chance to see the place. They have free music concerts in the Riverside Park in July and August so we get there in time for the 7pm start to see Mike MacKenzie and his band (from Calgary) play some pretty decent rock and blues. We take a walk around town but there really isn't much to it. Quite a few restaurants seem to close really early, lots of hotels and motels and some government offices. We end up in the Noble Pig bar and brewery, & have a very nice Amber ale and awesome lamb burger with a caramelised apple slice and Brie. Kamloops may not be the most exciting place but we have had some good food here and enjoyed a free concert to its credit. Kelowna & Penticton
morning we drive 2.5 hrs to Penticton, along the Shuswap valley then down along Kalamalka, then Okanagan Lake and via Kelowna, a resort town on the lake with a few beaches. It's 30C outside, so we're looking forward to some R&R in the sun. We notice quite a few hitch hikers on the road even though it is illegal to give them a lift (according to the signs we see). And some have some interesting tactics for getting a lift; one woman takes to doing some contortionist yoga while her partner hitches??
After the desert like hill of Kamloops, the valley is very green and lush, with lots of farms, small communities, some lovely wooden built church's and surprisingly, a lot of heavy traffic and lorries. This is one of the main roads through Canada. It's also the heart of Canada's fruit and wine country and there are loads of roadside stalls selling cherries and apricots, and the fields are full of orchards. As we hit the Lake Country (as it's known) we also join the wine route - loads of vineyards. We have to decide whether to do a tour (which we've enjoyed in other countries) or just
use the cash and buy ourselves a couple of bottles of good stuff!
Kelowna is a huge sprawling mass of a town, but its downtown heart is actually very nice. We had decided not to stay around here as the Rough Guide described it as being filled with testosterone fuelled young folk out for a party. (The author obviously hasn't been to Faliraki in Rhodes). There's a Main Street & Bernard Street with lots of eateries (we go to the Memphis BBQ for a good brisket sandwich) and great ice cream joint - Moo Lix. There’s a lovely park area with a few food trucks leading on to the beach area at the edge of the lake. Lots of families are out having picnics, young folk wander around in beachwear that wouldn't look out of place in St Tropez, and on the lake folk paddle board, paraglide and there's an awesome bouncy castle type children’s play park on water for the kids to enjoy.
Far from being Faliraki, it's a really nice, relaxed place. It's definitely a place to come back to for a day. After a couple of hours we head on to Penticton (through the most
horrendous traffic jams as we get out of town and through Peachland) and our campground at the edge of Lake Skaha at the south end of Penticton. The site, Lake Skaha Trailer and Tent Park is not somewhere we would recommend. The pitches are very cramped, it costs C$35 per night and you have to pay for showers. We had been warned though that this would be expensive as the area is so attractive and so close to both Vancouver and the US border.
After setting up camp we go for a wander in Penticton, which is apparently the trendy place to stay. It reminds C of Paignton; all a bit second rate in terms of shops/eateries compared to Kelowna though it does have lovely parks and gardens, including a lovely Japanese style garden, and some nice beach areas. We also notice a Sikh Temple and some Indian restaurants, so guess there must be a sizeable Indian community here. The hills, on one side of the lake are covered in vineyards and on the other side is a small airstrip; the planes come in really low over the lake which looks a bit scary at times. The other really
great thing is, despite the heat and humidity - no mossies. Hallelujah!!!
After a lazy start we try to get the internet to work onsite. The advert for the campsite says free Wi-Fi. Turns out its only free if you have an existing (paid for) account with Shaw Go. So not really free at all! This place will definitely get a duff rating from us. So it’s a coffee & free Wi-Fi at Starbucks then off for a walk across the beach to see what there is. The only good thing about the campsite is its location - just across a park to the main beach. In fact there is much more beach area here than the RG book suggested, and nearly all of it is packed. There’s a great water park for little one's nearby.
We see folk paddle boarding (which we decide to try another day), taking out boats, jet skiing and the new craze, power jets that lift you up using water jets under the feet (a bit like the show acts you see with dolphins using their snouts to push their trainers up through the water) - looks interesting.
We'd been told at the Kelowna VC about the new sport in town in Penticton; tubing along the river between the Okanagan and Skaha Lakes - sort of like Van Vieng in Laos but much more gentle. So we go to the place where the tubing trips end and find out it’s much better value than we had expected, and folk say its good fun so something to try - maybe on our last day here.
We spend an hour or so sunbathing in the afternoon - it's good and hot but cloud seems to come over in the late afternoon so morning sun tanning is best. C goes for a dip; it's bloody cold but very refreshing though M is not persuaded. We've decided on balance not to do a wine tour but plan to visit a winery that gets a good recommendation, so go to the BC Liquor Store by Safeway (definitely the best choice and the best prices) to check out the options. There are some award winners for a very good price so we decide a good steak dinner on our last night here is in order to be accompanied by a nice vino!
Another sunny day! So we make use of the rays for a couple of hours in the morning to try to convert pasty skin to brown - gets as far as red by the end of the day! Then it's off to Kelowna for lunch and the afternoon. We go to the Salted Brick and have their 16 hour slow cooked brisket sandwich - absolutely awesome (will definitely have to try cooking that at home), accompanied by a pint of local amber which is also very good. All followed by another whopper ice cream! (Methinks diets will be in order on return to Blighty!)
Then we take a walk along the riverside towards the yacht club (they're building a new swanky looking one so there’s money in town!). There are quite a few motor boats out, some sailing dinghys including a kids club, and some seaplanes parked along a jetty. There are some lovely, well-manicured gardens and it's very quiet. Hardly any folk here at all in contrast to the other end of the riverfront which is packed with families.
Heading back to the busy end C does a bit more on the tan while M goes and dips his toes in the water. We notice lots of folk start lining up with seats along the path side, and many more go out on boats like a flotilla. Apparently the Snowbirds (Canadian equivalent to the Red Arrows) will be doing a display in the evening. We though, head back to P and to a very steamy tent - boy is it warm, and a cool beer.
Next day we had planned to do the tubing but the heat got the better if us last night and we felt a bit sluggish and not in the mood for 3 hours full on sun. So instead we do a bit of shopping and internet and buy some supplies for the next phase of our trip; some stuff seems cheaper here than in Vancouver.
After a light lunch it's down to the lakeside for more rays (and wandering around taking pics for M) then off to Sudbury Lake, a little further along the top of Lake Skaha where we have booked for an hour’s paddle boarding (at C$25 each it seems pretty good value). We get a quick training session then launch out to hit the other side of the lake. In all honesty - it's easier to watch than to do! We only get about 100m total from the shore. Whilst C gets the hang of the balance stuff quite quickly (and soon falls off for her cockiness), M takes a few tumbles but at least the water is fresh and clean so no need to wash his T shirt! Despite it all, it's a nice way to finish our stay on the lakes and to celebrate we enjoy a nice local steak with a bottle of gold medal winning Okanagan Red Rooster Pinot Noir; not bad at all. Next stop Vancouver and 3 weeks touring Vancouver Island. See you there…………………..
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