Canada with Scenic Tours
Imagine opening up a National Geographic and stepping inside. Welcome to Canada. Those double-page spreads with jaw-dropping vistas? or photographs of black bears emerging from hibernation? They could be yours too. I spent my entire time in Canada torn between photographing the landscapes and simply gawping at the view. Simply stunning.
I arrived in Vancouver, and was whisked away to Victoria Island and deposited at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Impossibly stylish with its majestic old architecture, the hotel is scenically placed on the inner harbour. Make sure you visit nearby Butchart Gardens, which is one of the world’s premier floral shows. Developed by the Butchart family in the early 1900s, it still remains within their care. I took the guided tour and got to hear a few family secrets too.
I’m not a big fan of orange but that afternoon I couldn’t care less as I was cocooned in waterproof suiting zooming across the harbour for an afternoon of whale watching. Although the whales remained elusive, I happily snapped away at other wildlife including bald eagles, seals and sea lions.
Leaving the island aboard the ferry, we met our coach on the mainland, which would take us to Whistler. But first we detoured to the stunning Shannon Falls. Plummeting 335 meters, the falls are navigated by a boardwalk which takes you to the best vantage points. Regardless of the season, these falls are always worth a visit – just remember it’s a bit nippy in mid-winter!
Between our Scenic Tours coach driver Bill and guide Kim, we had some of the most passionate Canadians I have ever met. What they didn’t know about their country probably wasn’t worth knowing. And we did throw them some curve ball questions!
In Whistler, we stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Tucked below Blackcomb Mountain, the setting was spectacular. All Fairmont hotels in Canada offer dog-friendly rooms for a CAD$25 surcharge per night, which makes travelling with your pooch easier. Effortlessly helpful, the staff took customer service to a whole new level.
On the way to Sun Peaks our coach stopped at the Historic Hat Creek Ranch which offers education tours about the traditional Shuswap People. We were welcomed into their homes, learnt about their rich culture and treated to a traditional dance followed by lunch. I felt very privileged to spend time with these gracious people.
In Sun Peaks, I stayed at the Delta Sun Peaks Hotel Resort. A nearby market crammed with small shopping stalls and mini talent acts kept me amused for a couple hours. I’d definitively return to explore this ski village again.
The next morning we were on the road again to Jasper, with a picturesque stopover at the base of Mount Robson. It’s hard not to throw superlatives around. Every twist in the road delivers another staggering view. In Jasper the resort was almost as large as a village. You can choose between stand-alone chalets or hotel rooms, but don’t miss the enormous fire in the communal living room and the views over Lake Beauvert.
It’s true what they say about Icefields Parkway being one of the most scenic highways in the world. With its glaciers, views of the Canadian Rockies, ice fed lakes and a super smooth highway snaking between it all, this area is a photographer’s muse. Being born and bred in Perth, seeing the snow and glaciers was a great contrast from home.
After spending the night near Lake Louise, we rose early to see the sunrise bounce off the mountains, before heading to Banff Springs Hotel. Styled after a Scottish Baronial Castle, I felt like royalty just walking along the corridors peering through the windows at the surrounding forest. After breakfast a retired Canadian Mountie spoke about his career and passion for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We cheekily asked him to pose for photos with us, which he happily did.
We left our coach for the Rocky Mountaineer, which is famous for its rail journeys winding through the Canadian Rockies. I was seated in Gold Leaf Class upstairs with a clear dome roof giving uninterrupted views of the mountains. This is the way to travel. Downstairs the restaurant serves up first class meals and drinks, which are included in the price of Gold Leaf Class. Sitting near the back of the train meant we could watch as the engine carriage snaked its way past lakes, and even saw it exit a tunnel before our carriage had even entered it! We were lucky to see three black bears fresh from hibernation emerge from beneath the trees to munch on nuts and seeds. An overnight in Kamloops included an entertaining dinner show, before the final part of my journey to Vancouver.
We were met by two Tourism Vancouver representatives who took us to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. I’m not the best with heights and my knuckles went white as I navigated the 70 metre high bridge. With more time – and bravery! – I’d have tried the new Cliffwalk and Treetops Adventure Walk. But seeing the coastal rainforest from up high was worth my height phobia.
Back at the hotel I realised I needed another suitcase to lug all my purchases home. So I bought a light-weight, four-wheeled suitcase for a bargain price – much cheaper than at home. But I didn’t want to be stung with excess baggage fees on my final domestic flight to Perth, so I purchased another 20 kilograms of baggage on the Qantas website. I don’t think I was the only one on my tour needing a little extra storage! Don’t forget you can also request seats online. I snapped up an exit seat on my return to Australia and used my overnight bag as a footstool. Very comfortable.
Looking back over my photos, the sheer beauty of Canada won’t be forgotten. It’s an immense country with dramatic, raw and beautiful landscapes. But it’s hard to explain the scale of this country, you just have to visit.