Canada and Alaska: Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park was the turn-around point for our cruise and the visual highlight. The weather had been almost unremittingly foggy and grey for the whole trip up to this point and so we were all a bit concerned we wouldn’t actually see anything.

Fortunately some sun did appear, and there was no rain. The weather was cold, but because the ship did a loop up the channel and back, we could see everything from our balcony. I did go out on the prow though and took photos from a few different spots around the ship.

It was also a day when the ship’s crew celebrated 77 years of Alaskan cruising with a serving of pea and ham soup (it’s a Dutch thing? Or something) that I thought was very nice but not many others seemed to enjoy it.

The scenery was spectacular, and the onboard tvs had documentaries on the wildlife and the formation of the bay that were quite interesting. They also had a park ranger do a voice-over as we went past the different glaciers.

No big icebergs were to be seen, but lots of little one made the water look like a styrofoam boat had exploded. Although not all of the icebergs were white – many were a dirty brown and you could watch them float along shedding clouds of rock flour that clouds the water and makes it that milky turquoise shade.

Next: Grouse Mountain and Vancouver for a day before heading home.

Canada and Alaska: Whistler and a Float Plane Ride

Whistler rivals Banff for prettiness and the mountains, dare I say it, are even more spectacular. Here’s Mum and I at the float plane dock.

Although who can really say which place we’ve been is the best? I’m reaching that stage of travel where I can’t honestly recall precisely what Banff’s mountains looked like. Lucky I’ve got five million photos!

The float plane was fantastic but slightly wobbly. The scenery was a ring of mountains with glaciers and lakes. The colour of the water was really stunning from the air.

As always, I felt my stomach lurch when the plane bumped up and down, but it was worth it! The other good thing about doing the flying options is that they’re quick (20 minutes this time) and so there’s time to do some walking around afterwards. Whistler town centre is a pedestrian mall and the town is set up for lots of summer sports. BMX and mountain bikers we catching the chair lifts up and riding down the mountain right to the middle of town. I got a free gondola ride and watched them from above.

I didn’t go up the mountain until late so I just did a little walk around, enjoyed the scenery and then came down. The gondola is one of the longest in the world and takes 20 minutes to go all the way to the top. Dare I say it even got a little boring? The views were great though, when it wasn’t rocking in the wind.

After having lunch at a cheap pasta place, Mum and I had enough leftovers to heat up for dinner in our room, which had a microwave. Imagine being able to eat what you wanted, with only a one minute wait and not have to make conversation with a waiter or try to work it tips! Luxury!

How one’s priorities change when traveling, hey?

Next: we go to another place and do more things.

Canada and Alaska: Lake Louise

It’s iconic, it’s incredible, it’s a huge tourist trap. It’s Lake Louise! One of the world’s most recognisable hotels, the Fairmont Lake Louise is a huge, bustling building and we were lucky enough to have a lake-view room.

That’s the view from our room at 6:30am. Of course the views from around the lake are even better. After we got to our room and unpacked, I left Mum to do her own thing and I walked the 2.5km path that follows the right side of the lake to the end.

It was packed with people. As I walked I could hear accents from around the world. I know some people could find it annoying to be somewhere so beautiful but also surrounded by people, but you have to come to terms with being a tourist and being part of the problem and just enjoy it for what it is, and it is stunning.

I later learned that the lake changes colour throughout the year. Obviously it’s frozen in winter – it is used for hockey and skating and sledding etc, then the ice melts around the beginning of June and at that point all the rock flour (glacier sediment) has settled and the water is crystal clear. As the glaciers around the lake start to melt in the warmer weather they bring superfine rock particles that cloud the water and reflect the light, becoming a deep jade (what you see now in August), then the glaciers freeze solid before the lake does, so the water clears in September and then freezes again. So all the lakes we’ve seen are glacier-fed and jade-coloured, but will be clear in a few months. I find that fascinating!

If you walk to the end of Lake Louise you can see six separate glaciers, three of which are visible from the hotel, but one of which is mostly covered in moraine, or landslides. People think of glaciers as pure, ancient water. But the truth is that the water that comes out of them is filthy because they grind the landscape so harshly that they pick up the rock. In Iceland icebergs are often striated with black volcanic gravel that the glaciers churn up.

Anyhow, Lake Louise was quite experience. The hotel is vast and very busy. We had dinner again with Heather and Steve, which was lovely, then an early night because we were leaving early to get to Moraine Lake, another postcard-perfect site.

Canada and Alaska: Banff Springs Hotel and a Helicopter Flight

The town of Banff is named after Banffshire in Scotland and the influence is easy to see. Our hotel, the Banff Springs, looks like a cross between Hogwarts and a country club.

Although you don’t find Ferrari’s parked outside Hogwarts.

Banff itself is about 1km away and look like a movie set for an alpine village – a little too clean and perfect to be real. The whole town is ringed by mountains and I can only imagine that it would look like a fairytale in winter. We had two nights here, with a helicopter ride over Canmore in the middle.

The hotel is a sprawling pile of stone with tartan carpets and leather couches. Lots of expensive boutiques and and a range of restaurants.

On our first night I met Mum in a small wine bar in the hotel and she had been watching the chef behind the bar make charcuterie plates, one of which involved smoking tuna tartare under a glass dome. Very fancy! Also, here is my first video addition – I hope it works.

We didn’t stay up too late though, because in the morning we had an item to cross off our bucket lists – the helicopter flight!

The thing about heights is, I never know if I’m going to be terrified or thrilled. I love hot air balloons, hate ladders, love boats in rough seas, hate high balconies. I didn’t know how I was going to go on the helicopter but if it was awful I could always close my eyes.

We drove to Canmore and had a safety briefing (essentially, try not to annoy your pilot by screaming if you go down) then were asked if any couples minded splitting up as the helicopters took five people in each. As an incentive it also meant sitting in the front so I volunteered Mum and I straight away. She was happy to do it too, of course.

We waited for a bit watching the helicopters come and go then jumped in and put our headsets and seat belts on. There is something innately exciting about wearing a headset, I wish I had an opportunity to do it more often – imagine going through life being able to just listen to specific people and block out everything else!

I don’t really have the words to describe the flight, but of course I have the pictures. I didn’t feel too anxious, just felt my stomach drop when we went over the top of ridges. I wish we’d been able to go for longer!

Next: I make Mum walk ten miles (actually one kilometre but you wouldn’t know it from her complaining) and we have a nice dinner. Thrilling!

Here Comes The Planet 40 – Iceland 05

In our final Iceland video, we take a Superjeep tour, go hiking over a mountain, sledding down a volcano and touch a glacier. I think we can all agree, Iceland is pretty damn rad.

Also, learn how to say Eyjafallaj枚kull! 馃榾

Here Comes The Planet 39 – Iceland 04

We go back to J枚kuls谩rl贸n to see the nearby black sand beach, and then continue our travels across Iceland’s stunning landscape.

Also, here are the promised 80’s-hair-metal-band Iceland horses; none, unfortunately, which are fighting. 馃檪

Music: Rafstraumur by Sigur R贸s

Super Jeep Tour, Iceland.

We only had one pre-organised activity of our Iceland trip – a day out with a driver in a large jeep, hopefully exploring glaciers, volcanos and with a two hour hike in the middle.

We met our driver, Magnus, and the other two passengers, Joan and Carl (about my parents’ age, from Germany) at a campsite not far from our hotel. We piled into the jeep and set off, Magnus warning us that cloud over the volcano could mean limited visibility but there were potential back up plans if we couldn’t do that.

The road we took very quickly went from dirt to boulders and the size of the jeep all of a sudden didn’t seem so excessive. We ploughed uphill and towards the ice sheet but as we tried to climb it became obvious that the rain falling on the snow had made the whole thing slushy and slippery and traction was almost impossible. Then the power steering gave out. Magnus got us out of the jeep while he turned it around and gave Luke and I little plastic paddle-things to play with – you sit on them and slide on your butt down the slope. I was a bit hesitant to give it a go but it was quite fun once you got moving.

Back in the jeep we headed downhill and back to the campsite to meet a mechanic. Magnus really had a hard time with the steering. No power steering on a large car is a pain, none on an enormous jeep over huge rocks seemed almost impossible.

We made it down ok though and Joan and I talked about their travels, our travels and what different countries were like.

While the mechanic worked on the car we walked to one of the waterfalls near the campsite. It fell down into a narrow chasm that was all green with moss and very beautiful. It’s funny how many times we’ve been waiting for something here and people have suggested ‘While you’re not doing anything why not go look at the waterfall just over there,’. It seems like there’s a waterfall behind every rock, almost all of which are more impressive that any I’ve seen in Australia.

So it was plan B. We drove to another campsite via a rocky valley cut across with lots of rivers. No bridges though, we ploughed across each river in proper Icelandic style, spraying water everywhere. Luke loved it.

From the campsite Joan and Carl were directed to the easy walking trail and Luke and I directed to go up the hill and see the view, we’d all meet Magnus at another campsite on the far side.

That tiny dot of red is where we’d walked up from. This photo in no way captures how amazing the view was, or the fact that the panorama extended nearly 360 degrees.

The walk up was steep but mostly ok. We stopped a fair few times and then again for a while at the top to admire the view, which cameras simply don’t do justice to. Just picture a ring of craggy, glacier-capped mountains, deep valleys, amazing rock formations… that’s pretty much it. The landscape in Iceland looks so raw – like it only just stopped moving yesterday. Which, we were about to find out at our next stop, was pretty much true.

Getting down from the mountain was not entirely enjoyable. I don’t like heights or slippery surfaces and the path was narrow, there was pretty much nothing in the way of railings and only a short set of stairs on one particularly steep bit. I think walking in Australia really spoils you because safety is always considered and there’s signs, proper steps and hand rails everywhere there’s an edge. Here there was just edge. At one point we thought the path ended in a cliff but no, if you get right down to the edge there’s some tiny stairs cut into the face of the hill… I actually fell once, sliding on some loose rocks. Fortunately I was already pretty much crouching to keep my centre of balance low. By the time we got to the bottom I was sweating with the adrenalin of it but hey, we got there and Luke only had to hold my hand nearly the whole way.

At the bottom there was a neat little man-made pool full of geothermally heated water. Magnus met us at the end of the path and we had several bowls of soup and bread while we told him to warn people next time that the path might not be for people who don’t like heights. I’m pretty sure he was thinking we were wimps, although he kindly didn’t say it. Still, it was a pretty epic view and I did feel somewhat amazed that I’d made it through such a challenge. A feeling only slightly deflated by the four-year-old who’d skipped down the path as we’d been going up. I swear, every time I’ve done some kind of testing physical challenge there’s been a small child somewhere along the route making me feel pathetic.

Next stop was a glacier that descended steeply into what looked like a huge coal mining pit. We drove down into a huge bowl-shaped crater that had been a lake until only a few years ago, when a mountain had blown a chunk of lava and rock into the air, which had landed in the lake, emptied it, and filled it with gravel and enormous chunks of ice. When the ice melted it left huge craters everywhere so the place was really moon-like.

Until three weeks ago there’d been a small lake to one side of the glacier, but since then something had destroyed one side of the lake and now there’s a river running through the canyon. As Magnus said, he loves his job because every time he visits places he never knows what he might find.

Luke and Magnus jumped across the river rocks and got right up to the glacier but Joan, Carl and I took photos from a distance and examined all the different kinds of rocks at our feet.

On the drive back to the first camp we quizzed Magnus on all things Icelandic – what do they do for fun, how did he get the job, how much money do people make, how do kids from remote places get to school. He was great with answering our questions and asked us some too. In our discussions it turned out that I was the only one onboard who didn’t realise that in Walmart in the US they give people motorised scooters to drive around the store. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but ..seriously? I couldn’t believe it. Luke reckons we can do a whole video on Walmart when we get to the US. We’ll see.

We thanked Magnus profusely when we said goodbye and farewelled Joan and Carl, who’d caught the ferry over and had three weeks to drive their own car around Iceland, lucky buggers. We returned to the hotel, debating whether to eat chips or biscuits for dinner.