A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

Rockies road trip (part 1)

Two weeks of stunning scenery, heavenly hikes and dramatic driving; with the icing on the cake being the All Blacks winning the World Cup!!

Our route starts in Vancouver and is followed by Kelowna in the Okanagan valley, Revelstoke as our gateway to the Rockies, then Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper for the full wow factor. Vancouver is returned to for a quick look, the RWC final and our flights down to Peru.

Kelowna, 10/11th October

Rested from a night being pampered at the rather sumptuous Harbour View B&B in North Vancouver, M & I think a run will be in order before we hit the road. But our virtuos plans are scuppered by torrential rain. So we drink tea, Eleanor (our hostess) chats about 'dancing with the stars', fill the thermos and start our drive towards the mountains.

M takes the first leg and tackles the motorway out of Vancouver with ease and speed, the only minor obstacle being roadhog trucks who seem to take being overtaken personally. I take over at 'Hope', a town that appears to us to need some. Soon we're on a high mountain
road engulfed in thick fog and I'm hanging on as 4x4s wizz past and disappear again seconds later. My appreciation of being in a rather sturdy vehicle increases.

As we enter Kelowna the rain eases up and M directs me down a few side streets and to the Quail's Gate winery. The tasting bar has amazing views over Okanagan lake and the surrounding hills and after the last few hours at the wheel this (plus M's offer to drive after) was a great surprise! A new grape to both of us is the Foch. A red fleshed red grape which gives a soft, medium bodied wine with a deep
purply red colour that would easily fool you into thinking you are drinking something much fuller.

Heading into Kelowna proper we give Jonathan (our couch-surfing host) a call and are invited to the Red Robin where he's about to have dinner with some mates. Towers of onion rings and free refills of fries and soft drinks accompany the burgers, but there is the option to
have salad instead of those fries...funnily enough the salad doesn't come with a free refill.

Another couchsurfer, Jacob, is also staying with us and we all head back to Jonathan's place - a roomy 2 bed place out of town towards the 'Big White'. It's on a ranch and the log fire is lit and travel tales told before we hit the sack.

We wake up to a chilly morning - and with the fire out and heating not working in our room it's a scramble into the shower before the thermals go on. It's my birthday and there are loads of messages and e-cards to read and although we're couchsurfing, M is intent on pampering me.

We drive up to the 'Big White', but it's a ghost town as the snow hasn't yet come and we're cloaked in cloud. So we head to town. We've been told about the Myra Canyon and all the trestle bridges that make up the disused railway line, so we decide to head up there and cycle
it. Again, being low season, finding bikes to hire isn't easy so I suggest we run it instead. The weather decides to be kind and the clouds disperse as we drive up the dirt track - once more we're feeling grateful that we hired an SUV. It's crisp but clear and the sun is out as we start our canyon jog. A sign reminds us to watch out for bears, and another for cougars, but instead we see smaller wildlife; chipmunks and pikas (small rabbit like mammals with tiny ears and no tail) darting around the rocks. We cross 16 trestle bridges and go through 2 tunnels. Seems like an odd place to have put a railway, but it makes for a very scenic and flat run!

As we have been so healthy, we head in search of wineries. It's now late afternoon and some are already closed, but we find the 'House of Rose' and have the tasting room to ourselves as the owner takes us through their range of rather unusual wines. There is a sweet red as well as some sweeter whites, good to try, but I'm not so keen. Then we're given a Foch, Syrah blend that was put together by a bunch of women coming over and voting for the best mix. It's called 'Hot Flash' and is rather yummy. We take a bottle back to the ranch to go with the dinner we rustle up for us, Jonny and Jacob.

Revelstoke - 12/13th October

This isn't such a long drive (3-4 hours) so we make a stop off on the way to hike up the Engleby Cliffs. Another bear warning is posted on the entry to the walk, but instead we see a bald eagle. We have great views over the Okanagan valley from the top - perfect spot for a picnic :)

Chad, our couchsurfer host for these two nights is incredibly laid back and tells us to come and go as we please, he doesn't lock the doors and doesn't even know where the key is. Nicole, a past couchsurfer is there when we arrive and we hear about her pretty awesome life of being a scuba instructor down in Mexico in the summer and working in a nearby skiing resort in the winter. Chad cooks up scallops, prawns and pasta and we all down a few beers. M then joins the crew at the local open mic night while I crash out. He gets to hear all about Chad's job as a frieght train driver, and how his trains are a massive 5 kilometres long, with well over 100 wagons, and the container wagons are double height! An engine is needed every 1 kilometre to help it on its way, as well as the 2 at the front and 1 at the back!

Before Chad heads off to work the following morning, he tells us about some hot springs in the middle of the forest and draws us a map. They sound great so we set off to Chad's final warning of "make sure you have a full tank of gas, and check the size of the puddles before you go through them"!

The mountains seem to appear out of the clouds as we head down to the ferry that joins up the two roads. The hourly ferry is quickly filled with a couple of lorries, a logging truck and several other cars and 4x4s. The water is clear and new snowcapped mountains keep appearing. Beautiful. Off the ferry, we follow Chad's instructions - drive 25km, then turn down the dirt track marked 'private property, keep out'. The track is full of pot holes, rocks and ditches. Some of the puddles are closer to ponds and we duly check the depth before choosing our path through. There's a 4x4 in the clearing and a path, so we figure we must be in the right place. Walking through the forest we soon see steam
rising through the trees ahead and a small shelter and a pool appear. We perform a quick change and join the two Canadians in the hot pool. Bliss! After a while a few others appear and we're told about the place, the pool being built in the 60s and how people will trek through the snow to get there in the winter. There's also a 'treasure tree', a tree with a small bit cut out of it to make a cubby hole for you to take the 'treasure' someone has left before and replace it with something for the next person to find. As the treasure was a set of keys, we figured we better leave them for the owner to come back and retrieve.

As we drive out we realise we're cutting it rather fine for the ferry, so once we're back on the tarmac M puts his foot down...and we arrive 3mins late to see the ferry pulling away from the shore. Darn! But the location is lovely so we agree to drive back a little way and go for a walk to kill the next hour when we realise that the ferry is reversing for us. We nip onboard to some good humoured curses from the lorry drivers and the controller lady just saying that she couldn't bear to think of us waiting there for the next hour. Welcome to Canada!!

Lake Louise, 14-16th October

We've heard that the cost of everything near enough doubles in Lake Louise, so we get some shopping in at Revelstoke before our drive. As well as supplies for sustenance, we both pick up some more hard core gloves ready for the -10+ that could greet us over the next few days.

The drive through Waterstone National Park is dramatic! We are surrounded by mountains and sheer cliffs. Lunch is taken a few km's off the main road near a stream - it's only as I head over to the stream to do the washing up that we think BEAR, but no bears have smelt
our cooking and headed to the stream to intercept me. Bear or no bear, I'm happy to be back in the car with the heating on for my fingers to defrost - that stream was icy!

Trains also head over the mountains and we saw a switchback on the mountainside where the trains are so long that you can see them entering and exiting the tunnel at the same time.

We stay at the Hostelling International Lake Louise so we're near some of the best hiking and have a kitchen to cook up some healthy meals. The staff give us the lowdown on what hikes are open and which are now closed for the season. And we discover that the mountain teahouses are closed now, so if we want cake and tea to sustain us, we'll have to provide it for ourselves - lucky I packed the thermos :)

Our first hike is the Plain of Six Glaciers. This takes us around Lake Louise and then up the mountain to a viewpoint where you can see six glaciers. And watch the ice crash off from the end up in the valley above us - an awesome site, and sound, that makes us happy that we're a safe distance away! On our way back down we decide to tag on another hike and pop up to Lake Agnes. This is a gorgeous and really tranquil spot where the small lake is almost completely enclosed by the steep mountain cliffs. Perfect place to stop and finish off our tea. As we slide down the path (it was very icy and despite my sturdy hiking boots I ended up on my butt a couple of times) we bump into a friendly Texan couple and get chatting. They are staying in the posh Fairmont hotel on the edge of the lake and invite us to join them in the bar for a beer - result. The hotel itself is an eyesore, but has the best views of Lake Louise that are to be had in the warmth, and after seven hours hiking, it's just what we're after. Back in our hostel, we discover the sauna and end up chatting to a Canadian and Irish chap about politics as we sweat...

I wake very happy as I receive the news that the All Blacks have beaten the Ozzies in the semi-final! We decide to find a bar showing it live in Vancouver and some internet searching shows there is at least one bar that will be :)

To be continued...have to run off now for our Inca Trail debrief! Our trek starts in the early hours of tommorow morning :-)

Posted by DebandMatt 15:01 Comments (0)

Vancouver Island

Swirling mist amongst the conifers, long winding roads and deserted beaches.

We'll start with what came before Vancouver Island, the journey there.

Both tired, we wandered in a slightly dazed fashion onto our Air Canada flight from London to Vancouver. Almost before we knew it, and only one whisky and Canada Dry in, the fun started "have you ever seen an iceberg before", "only on TV". So we start running back and forth across the plane spotting hundreds of massive icebergs followed by glaciers emptying into the ocean and the stunningly white landmass of Greenland. A movie and nap later and the Rockies came into view, clear, dark mountain lakes and thick snow giving us a taster of what we would soon be viewing from land. (This sighting of snow also made us think that we may need a vehicle that could cope with some icy conditions...so we've been having fun driving around in an SUV...the greenest one possible of course!)

We arrive at Megan and Mick's (my cousin and her partner who are also travelling in Canada) quirky pad (all 1912 decor just as it would have been when first built) in New Westminster and are greeted with an early Thanksgiving dinner and later woken by several frieght trains which just love to blow their fog horn as long and loudly as possible at 3am.

Next morning it's straight to the ferry through the low cloud and drizzle. Vancouver is not looking it's most appealing. But shortly after we start moving, patches of blue are seen in the direction of travel, and by the time we arrive in Victoria the sun is blazing and our search for ice-cream commences.

Our destination for the evening is a hill-top lodge, near Port Renfrew, with views of the sea, hot tub and a passionate chef. We wake in the morning to mist rising off the forest floor, swirling through the conifers and settling in layers on the sea, hiding the tops of the distant mountains. Nearby is a well trodden loop walk and we set out with enthusiasm and noise as we are now walking in Bear country. The rules of behaviour around bears are really quite simple:
1) Talk, sing or jangle bells so that you never surprise a bear.
2) If you surprise a bear, ask it what colour/type it is. This is very important as will be explained below.
3) If a black bear attacks you, fight back to try to scare it off.
4) If a brown bear attacks you, play dead so it gets bored and moves on.
The problem comes in determining what type of bear you have at hand. Apparently, some brown bears are rather close to black in colour, and some black bears have some brown bits...but what type of bear it is is important because:
5) If a black bear attacks you, do not play dead. It will try to eat you thinking it has killed you.
6) And if it is a brown bear, to do not try to fight back, it WILL kill you.
Confused yet? Yes, so are we!

Driving up country we head through a couple of hundred kms of forestry plantations before emerging at the tranquil Shawnigan Lake and stay in a beautiful maze of a B&B. Megan's organisation came good once more as we were greated with tea and plum cake and shown to rooms of old world grandeur (think 'Gone with the Wind' and Scarlett O'Hara's childhood home).

We were now in the wine, cider and farming part of the island and so decided that we should sample as much of these delights as possible. First up was Merridale cidery, which started us off with an oak aged cider as strong as wine (Deb was very pleased that Matthew had offered to drive today). Their offerrings were surprisingly tasty, and not all at knock your socks of strength and so we merrily skipped through the orchard after our tasting. Yummy Pinot Gris and some wild blackberry port were also sampled before we headed down to the coast of Cow bay to explore and then munch on some of Hilary's cheeses.

As the drive to Port Alberni started, the rain came down and we were feeling rather smug with our timing as we cruised past moody lakes. Finding our accomodation for the night wasn't quite so easy - Tsunami Guesthouse was tiny and well hiden in the the mix of suberbia and shopping malls. But we got there in the end and were greeted by an enthusiastic, if not a little eccentric, owner, Wolf, who provided massive Black Russian tomatoes, courgettes and cinnamon basil from his garden for Deb to use in cooking up an impromptu dinner.

Encouraged by the possibility of seeing bears scooping salmon directly from the river, we decided on an early start to Stamp Falls. Sadly, it seemed that the bears were still asleep, but it was stunningly beautiful in the chilly morning air and we did see a tonne of Salmon!

After our breakfast of freshly baked bread, care of Wolf, we headed to the ferry port via 'Cathedral Cove' which holds some of the largest conifers on the Island (the largest we saw being a whopping 79 meters high). With mosses literally blanketing and dripping from the trees it was a rather mystical spot, although a little of this mystique dissapeared with the rumble of the trucks right through the centre of the grove.

Then it was onto Nanaimo for our ride back to Vancouver...

Posted by DebandMatt 23:20 Comments (0)

Last night in London

This is not the end of the book, only the start of the next chapter

We are weary and excited. There have been headaches along the way, and saying goodbye to family and friends has been tough, but the anticipation of the adventure has kept our spirits high. So it is with joy that the champagne cork is popped (cheers Rachel!) and poured into rather ugly wine glasses (my champagne flutes started their voyage yesterday afternoon).

Now there is champagne to drink and a last supper to be had, so we will say 'hasta luego'.

Deb and Matt xx

Posted by DebandMatt 11:49 Comments (0)

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