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.

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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: Icefields Parkway and a Glacier Experience

Unlike everything else we’ve done here, I’d not hear a peep about the Icefields Parkway, which made it one of the best surprises of the trip so far.

Apologies for the poor photo quality – almost all these pictures were taken out through a bus window while going at high speeds. The subject matter hardly suffered though! The parkway trip takes a few hours and the views are spectacular the whole way. So spectacular, in fact, that I regret all previous uses of the word ‘spectacular’ and wished I’d saved the word for this occasion alone.

I mean, if this wasn’t even worth mentioning, what on Earth does the rest of Canada look like?

We broke up our trip with a few stops. The first was at some falls along the Athabaskan river. A wide section of river suddenly narrowed and the force of the water was incredible. The water and rocks carve smooth bowls and canyons through the rock walls.

Next was a stop at one of those places where tourists are herded, penned, ordered around and generally treated like giant dollar signs. Fortunately our tour had everything arranged so there wasn’t much waiting for the bus up to the glacier and we had time to sit and eat the sandwiches we’d bought at the falls. I haven’t been to Switzerland, but I imagine it is a bit like this?

While we were sitting out on the deck a chipmunk darted around under tables and seemed to spend a lot of time checking out my backpack.

Then it was onto a bus, which took us up to the big bus-truck things that drive onto the glacier. The trucks were interesting, being six-wheel drive and kind of like tanks, plus the road towards the glacier was extremely steep (a gradient of about 32 degrees), but being on the glacier felt weird. Not long ago I saw a documentary about glaciers, and seeing the road the trucks had worn into it and having a big group of tourists standing around all felt a bit sacrilegious. It’s not really logical – global warming is the problem and glacier shrinkage isn’t caused by people standing on a tiny part of it, but still.

Our tour director warned us not to drink the glacial waters because of Ice worms . They live their whole lives on glaciers and eat algae and if you have eat too many they can make you ill. I thought that perhaps it was the Canadian equivalent of drop bears, but apparently they’re real.

Next was a short rest stop then Carmen handed out some maple leaf biscuits. Maple-syrup flavored and OMG, so good! My hands smelled like syrup for the next hour. If I bring nothing else home I’m bringing several boxes of these!

Just think of a shortbread cream biscuit but infused with maple syrup.

Anyhow, back to the Icefields Parkway. If you ever go to Canada make sure you take a trip along it. It’s about a hundred times better than the Great Ocean Road, and compares favorably to Iceland’s ring road (but more trees) and Lake District in England (but without the narrow lanes filled with sheep and impatient local buses). Also make sure you’re not doing the driving so you can spend the whole time goggling at the towering mountains and turquoise waters. I guarantee you’ll love it!

Next: Banff Springs Hotel and a ride in a helicopter!

Here Comes The Planet 54 – Tanzania 07

In this episode of Here Comes The Planet we take a cultural tour around Mto wa Mbu Village in Tanzania. This consists of walking through the village’s farms and sampling an amazing array of delicious food, learning about the village’s history and entertaining its children.

We also watched some local artists at work, sampled banana beer and found the village nightclub!

Also – DISCO TOTO!!!

Here Comes The Planet 49 – Tanzania 05

In this episode Team Toto soar above the Serengeti in a hot air balloon and drink champagne like the rock stars they wish they were! An unforgettable experience that we shared with many of our travel companions.

Also, I deliver on a promise I made to amp up the excitement of a balloon coming in to land… 😉

Thanks again to Pete and Deb for letting us use some of their footage!

The Grand Canyon

We booked a day trip to the Grand Canyon with Grand Adventures, a tour company that runs small vans rather than big buses. We were lucky enough to have a very competent, informative and charming driver named Chad. Luke and I were the first ones picked up and then there was another couple from Sydney, a young woman from Singapore and a couple from Canada. We left Vegas at 7am.

On the drive Chad filled us in on the history of Vegas, we all got to know each other and then we stopped at the Hoover Dam, not far out of town.

Apparently so much concrete was used in the dam that a two lane road could be built across America with it. We learned a bunch of other facts that I recall perfectly but won’t bore you with here.

Next stop was Seligman, a little town on Route 66. I’ve already posted about that so I won’t write any more here except to say that it was where we first saw snow. In fact two of the ladies on the bus had never seen snow before – but more about that later.

The Grand Canyon (south rim) is over 4 hours from Las Vegas. It was quite a drive but Chad kept us entertained when we weren’t talking to each other. Somehow we always end up in the tour groups that know how to keep a conversation going and Chad was most impressed with our immediate rapport. I believe he might’ve said we were the best group he’d ever had. Or maybe I said it. Either way, it was undoubtedly the truth.

Finally we reached the national park. It was much more low-key than I expected. Not much of a fanfare or flashiness, which was really nice. Just some great viewpoints and a dusting of snow. We bundled out of the warm van and tried to avoid patches of ice.

Amazing views.

Spot the Colorado – it’s about the width of two olympic sized swimming pools.

When we realised two of the crew hadn’t seen snow before the next step was obvious.

I’d never actually seen anyone do this before.

Angels!

Big smiles!

We all found the view spectacular… some might even say energising.

An heroic jump!

We had such a brilliant day. I thought I’d sleep in the van on the way back but I ended up talking to Chad about American schools and government and all kinds of things. I’d definitely recommend his company to anyone thinking of going – personal service, comfort and nice small groups.

 

 

 

 

 

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 Eyjafallajökull! 😀