September 2007

Latitude Adjustment: Canada-East & West

Author: Kathy Mason

From the majestic Rockies in the west to the tidal wonders and quaint villages on the east coast, our neighbor to the north has a variety of travel options in all seasons. Vancouver, on the west coast, is a vibrant cosmopolitan city. The Butchart Gardens on the tip of Vancouver Island is a must see with some 700 varieties of plants blooming from March to October. Calgary is famous for its “Stampede Days”—a 10-day rodeo, concert and agricultural fair that draws more than a million visitors in July. Adventure travelers can heli-hike in the mountains, kayak in the rushing, clear rivers and streams, ski in the Rockies in the winter or travel to Churchill on a Polar Bear Expedition! Canada offers travelers a smorgasbord of choices.

My husband and I were invited by friends to visit them in Vancouver, so we used that as an excuse to see more of the beautiful Canadian countryside. Tauck World Discovery features five different tours to the west coast of Canada, from a 12-day tour including British Columbia to a tour which features a week’s round trip from Calgary and includes stays at Jasper National Park, Banff Springs and Lake Louise.

Our trip took us through some magnificent scenery. We drove through interesting valleys, lake vistas and snow-capped mountains. Our tour guide would divert us off the main highways into rustic roads that led to a gushing waterfall or crystal blue snow-fed lakes and then we would proceed to a rustic lodge overlooking the water for lunch. We stayed at Fairmont Hotels, which are premier mountain resorts in the heart of Jasper and Banff National Parks. At Banff Springs, the hotel was designed to resemble a large Scottish castle. It is on the banks of the Bow River and overlooks a beautiful golf course. A small warning: one needs to be part mountain goat as some of the trails from hotel to the river were quite steep!

Another aspect of the tour was a day touring the Icefields Parkway, a route between Lake Louis and Jasper that parallels the main ranges of the Canadian Rockies. We stopped at Athabasca Glacier, a four-mile-long, 1000-foot-thick river of ice. We transferred from our bus over to the glacier and then had a ride on a “Snocoach”—an all-terrain vehicle equipped with special tires to maneuver the ice. About halfway up the glacier, we got out and walked (very carefully) on the ice. Our guide extolled the virtues of drinking glacier water to keep you young. He said he was only 95! He also cautioned us about stepping in cracks or fissures in the ice where drops can be 40 feet or more!

After our Tauck tour ended in Calgary, we spent a night in the city and caught the Rocky Mountaineer train to Vancouver. What an experience! Even though we re-traced some of the same route, the lush scenery, mountain views and atmosphere differed decidedly from our usual Hilton Head beach orientation. Our seats were in a bi-level dome coach with full-length windows, and at mealtimes, we descended the stairs to a dining room with picture windows, so we never missed any of the views. The Rocky Mountaineer boasts gourmet breakfasts and lunches plus snacks and drinks served at your seat. (Probably the best Bloody Mary I ever tasted!)

There are a variety of trips with Rocky Mountaineer with combinations from two days to tours of six and eight days, a self-drive option, a new route now to Whistler. The Rocky Mountaineer stopped in Kamloops where everyone got out and spent the night. They only operate in an all-daylight journey to take advantage of the scenery.

After we arrived in Vancouver we spent four days boating, cycling in Stanley Park and sightseeing before we came home.

We went on a wonderful “fall foliage” cruise on the East Coast by flying into Montreal, and sailing up the St. Lawrence Waterway to quaint French Quebec around to Halifax in Nova Scotia, St. John and ending up in New York. In addition to the cruise option, many tour companies focus on Nova Scotia, starting in Halifax, traveling to Peggy’s Cove (a lighthouse similar to Harbour Town but perched out on a rocky crag) and continuing north up the Cabot Trail to the Cape Breton National Park, over to Prince Edward Island (home of Anne of Green Gables) and Charlottetown. The small fishing villages on the coast and the countryside farms are a far cry from the Canadian Rockies, but hold a distinct charm of their own.

In between there is a huge expanse to discover from Quebec to Ottawa to Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. Canada really has something for everyone!

Kathy Mason moved to Hilton Head Island in 1971. She has been actively involved in the travel field for the past 16 years, the last seven of which have been with Valerie Wilson Travel at the Village at Wexford, a Virtuoso agency).

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