Thursday, August 04, 2011

o caaaanadaaaa

As some of you will already know (and you should if you've been paying attention), the lovely Hazel and I got married a few weeks ago. Now getting married is great and all, but arguably even greater is the freedom you get to then go on a great big holiday afterwards. We decided, with very little argument, to go to Canada.

We bookended the trip with a couple of days in Vancouver and four days on Vancouver Island, but the main thing we did was hire an RV (from the good people at Fraserway near the airport in Vancouver, most of whom seem to be German or Dutch for some reason) and go on a road trip. Thanks to the magic of Google I can create you a map of our itinerary showing you where we stopped, in fact I have done just that: here it is.

Here's a bit more detail about our route and what we did on the way:
  • Day 1: Vancouver to McLure: 249 miles. Quite a long day, as in addition to the distance involved we had to pick up the RV, get the tutorial on how to work the RV (in particular, how to empty the water and sewage tanks without getting knocked off your feet by a tsunami of your own assorted feculence), work out how to drive the RV (which are quite large, even the relatively compact 20-footer we hired, plus they have automatic transmission with a column shift, plus you have to drive on the right) and pick up food and drink supplies. So we didn't really have time for any sightseeing (we skipped our planned detour via Hell's Gate) and pretty much just turned up at the Pinegrove campground, had some food and beer and went to bed.
  • Day 2: McLure to Clearwater: 52 miles. A short hop here as we wanted to do some walking in Wells Gray Provincial Park. We did a hike up Pyramid Mountain and then a low-level tour of some waterfalls, of which Helmcken Falls is probably the most famous, but (in my opinion, anyway) Spahats Falls is the most spectacular. We then headed back to Clearwater to stay at the Dutch Lake campground.
  • Day 3: Clearwater to Jasper: 197 miles. We stopped off at Mount Robson on the way to have a bit of a look at it (sadly we didn't have time to shin up it), and very impressive too. We stayed at Whistler's campground, which is run by Parks Canada and is (just about) walking distance from town - taxis are available for the return trip if you're feeling too lazy/full/pissed. Note that in the national parks (Jasper being in Jasper National Park, surprisingly enough) you will need to pay a park fee of about ten dollars per day, in addition to any camping fees.
  • Day 4: in and around Jasper. We went on the Jasper Tramway which takes you most of the way up Whistlers Mountain (you can walk the rest of the way to the top, which of course we did). We then went on a boat trip on Maligne Lake, which contains Spirit Island, one of the most photographed locations in the world and currently available at a free desktop wallpaper gallery near you. We then went into Jasper, hit a couple of bars and went to Villa Caruso for dinner, which is very nice, though far from cheap.
  • Day 5: Jasper to Saskatchewan River Crossing: 123 miles. More importantly, this section is the top end of the Icefields Parkway, one of the world's great scenic roads. Along the way we stopped at the Columbia Icefield to explore the Athabasca Glacier - we went up onto the glacier in one of their specially-designed fat-tyred "sno-coaches" and had a bit of a wander round, and then joined a small group for a walking tour below the glacier foot to check out the local flora and fauna and see the evidence of the glacier's gradual retreat over the last 150 years or so. We stayed at the David Thompson Resort, half an hour or so up Highway 11 north-east of Saskatchewan River Crossing.
  • Day 6: Saskatchewan River Crossing to Radium Hot Springs: 196 miles. This is mostly the southern section of the Icefields Parkway, as far as Banff anyway. On the way we stopped of for a look at Peyto Lake and Lake Louise, both very pretty (and quite crowded, Lake Louise in particular). We then headed off to Radium Hot Springs, where in addition to checking in at the Canyon RV campground we had a dip in the therapeutic waters of the hot springs themselves, which are all very pleasant.
  • Day 7: Radium Hot Springs to Kelowna: 278 miles. Another long day, but we wanted to have two nights in Kelowna so that we could do a wine-tasting tour (Kelowna being the centre of the Okanagan wine region) and not have to worry about driving anywhere afterwards. So we didn't do much sightseeing on the way, except to stop off in Revelstoke for lunch. Beyond the mountain scenery the actual town of Revelstoke is pretty nondescript, so we didn't hang about, and headed off to check in at the Hiawatha RV Park.
  • Day 8: in and around Kelowna. We booked a wine tour with Wine Your Way tours, which turns out to be ex-sommelier Shalyn and her car. We did a tour of four wineries: Mission Hill, Rollingdale, Cedar Creek and St. Hubertus, by the end of which we had absorbed not only lots of fascinating wine information from our well-informed guide (despite feeling like we were starring in Sideways), but also samples of something like 25 wines and were a bit addled. In a futile attempt to soak up some of the wine we also called in at the Carmelis goat's cheese emporium and sampled some of their excellent wares, including some goat's cheese ice cream (and very nice too). My suggestion: try the Chabichou cheese and the St. Hubertus Pinot Blanc, they're both great.
  • Day 9: Kelowna to Hope: 233 miles. We drove south from Kelowna to Osoyoos to visit the NK'MIP Desert Cultural Centre, in the middle of a weird little arid desert micro-climate (certainly weird after walking on a glacier only a couple of days earlier anyway). After watching a presentation of a bit of traditional Native American snake-wrangling in the visitor centre we went out onto the nature trails to find a few rattlesnakes for ourselves; no luck though. We then headed on to Hope and stayed at the Kawkawa Lake campground.
  • Day 10: Hope to Vancouver: 94 miles. Part of the reason for stopping off in Hope was to make this last leg nice and short, as we had to drop the RV back by 11:30am. So no sightseeing, just a bit of last-minute tidying up and emptying of sewage tanks and back to the Fraserway depot. They were then kind enough to ferry us plus luggage over to the airport where we were picking up the hire car for the rest of the trip. But that, as they say, is another story....

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