Christmas in British Columbia, New Year in Alberta and a whole lot of miles in between.
Christmas in Vancouver.
We arrived in Vancouver just a couple of days before Christmas. The streets were packed with last minute shoppers and there was a real wintry feeling around. A haze had fallen over the city making it difficult to see Vancouver's Grouse Mountain backdrop.
We were staying in a lovely apartment on Davie Street, very centrally located. It was especially reasonably priced given that we were there over the holiday period. For this trip, I was with my brother. Aside from having Christmas itself in Vancouver with a cousin, we had no other plans for our trip. We each had friends in Jasper and Banff respectively but didn't know whether we would make it to seeing them.
We had a day walking around Vancouver, taking in the sights and enjoying the winter chill. We sampled local beers, visited the beach and took the boat across to North Victoria for some good photographs of the harbour.
Once Christmas had been and gone, we took a trip to visit Grouse Mountain. Unfortunately, we didn't do the cable car ride because the views weren't great due to thick cloud but had the weather been different we definitely would have gone up, even if it was a little over $40 each!
We also visited Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. They offer a free shuttle bus from various locations in downtown Vancouver. Alternatively, you can take a regular transit bus #246 from the Waterfront Bus Station. This only costs a couple of dollars and gives you more flexibility. We opted for the free shuttle!
This is a great way to spend a day in Vancouver, especially if it's not raining. You can easily take a few hours walking around the trails, reading the different information boards and admiring the views.
We visited the Top of Vancouver revolving restaurant for drinks one night. There were spectacular views of the city and it is free admission, you just pay for the beers once you're at the top! It actually could work out cheaper than visiting the official Vancouver observation tower.
After a few days pottering in Vancouver we decided to hire a car, preferably a 4x4 with snow tyres. That way we would be able to journey to Jasper and Banff, get to see some spectacular scenery, meet up with our friends and conquer the Rocky Mountains!
Unfortunately, the lovely people at Enterprise were out of 4x4s and only supply all-season tyres. We decided to take our chances and ended up with a silver Toyota Yaris. Yes, that's right, we were taking on the Rockies at the end of December in a Yaris... Nothing like a bit of adventure to accompany a road trip!
We left Vancouver early morning and it didn't take me long to adapt to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. The car was an automatic which made it slightly easier to focus on everything being on the other side of the road. Then it was time to go!
To start with we didn't think there was much of a problem with the all-seasson tyres. There wasn't any fresh snow and the roads seemed clear. Our first day involved driving and appreciating the scenery. Really, we wanted to get to Jasper within two days. Our first milestone was Kamloops, only four or so hours from Vancouver. There we would decide the next milestone and look ahead for somewhere to stay. We used this site to check the road conditions and closures when trying to plan our route.
We were heading towards Revelstoke but it seemed that everywhere was booked up there so we figured we would just find somewhere on the road. That would have been a great plan if a blizzard hadn't just blown in. Driving conditions were worsening and it was getting difficult to see. We followed a snow plough for a good while but with the winding roads and worsening conditions we knew that Revelstoke was out of the question.
We followed some signs off the main road to several hotels in this tiny town we had arrived at. It seemed that there was a big influx of visitors to the area this weekend and everything was booked. We found a diner with a hotel attached so we had dinner and looked online at hotels nearby. There was nothing. We stayed in the diner until closing time then accepted our fate that our first night on the road would be in the car. It was only -3c so it could have been much worse!
I can't say I slept well that night, however, by the time morning came, the roads were looking clearer and it looked like we would make it to Revelstoke without issue.
We knew that today was the day that we would encounter Rogers Pass and that was a scary thought if ever there was one. Here, our Yaris would be pushed to its limits (as would we, no doubt!) Will wasn't old enough to drive the hire car (you had to be twenty-five) so it was all on me and I've had very limited driving experience on ice or in snowy conditions. Nonetheless, I was up for the challenge.
Our aim was to get to Jasper tonight so we could relax there for a few days before arriving in Banff for New Year. We pushed ourselves on the road. Driving cautiously and keeping our fingers and toes crossed. In all honesty, it was terrifying that our car wasn't cut out for such an adventure. However, the beautiful scenery couldn't be beaten.
Surprisingly we made it through Rogers Pass and out towards Golden in fairly good time and with no major incidents. No minor incidents either! Next stop, Lake Louise and take a left turn up to Jasper. We had a hotel booked tonight and Will's mates were already getting the beers in.
We had two nights booked at quite a lovely hotel to make up for our night on the road yesterday. We had a huge room with two big double beds and there was even free car parking. Bonus!
Before meeting the boys, we hunkered down for a nap and then went off exploring.
We drove around aimlessly and then found that you could hire iceskates from Pyramid Lake Resort. This was only a short drive from the centre of Jasper and it was fantastic as they had goalposts and even gave us hockey sticks so we could play ice-hockey. It was a very unexpected and fabulous afternoon. Of course, I spent more time sitting on the ice than I did skating on it but hey ho. We also had the rink (lake) to ourselves which made it extra special. The skate hire wasn't expensive so I highly recommend this.
We spent the rest of the afternoon warming up in a local pub and telling stories of our wild adventure across Rogers Pass in the Yaris.
Tomorrow we would head out exploring and taking photographs of Jasper National Park. How could we resist with scenery this beautiful?
The next day we set off for Banff. We had heard from so many different people on our journey how wonderful Banff was. As neither of us were skiiers we were told there were plenty of other activities to keep us entertained. Some of these included helicopter rides, dog-sledding, hot springs and riding a gondola.
As it was very close to New Year's Eve, everything was very busy. There was limited availability in the central hotels and where there was availability, it was far out of our price range! In the end we settled for a motel just outside Banff in Canmore. The scenery was beautiful and it was easy to get in and out of Banff to meet up with my pal.
Having arrived late afternoon we didn't do anything exciting on our first night. We decided that we should plan some activities for the next couple of days as if things weren't already booked up, they soon would be. We looked into helicopter tours but being New Year's Eve, they were fully booked. Then we decided to enquire about dog-sledding. We found an amazing company, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, who managed to squeeze us in the very next morning. They were well-priced, the customer service was excellent as the booking was confirmed at about 9pm and we had the most amazing day! If you've never been dog-sledding, it's a must! I can't rate it enough.
That night we had no plans for seeing in the New Year. Most places were operating on a ticket basis or $100 entry fee... resigning ourselves to the fact we would be in our hotel room watching TV we made some calls and found a bar letting in the first twenty 'ticket-less' folks to show up. We were going to make sure we were first at the door!
The bar provided entertainment all evening and champagne at mightnight. Of course, being such a lightweight I was on my way home at 1am and Will stayed out partying with the locals in a different bar. Happy New Year and welcome to 2013!!
New Year's Day 2013 and it was staight to a pub for a big breakfast. After that we went to take a ride on Banff's gondolas. It worked out at about $40 each and that included the gondola travel- especially worth it because they let you ride in individiual cars, instead of squashing numerous parties together. Once you're at the top, you can walk around and take in the views. Alternatively, there's a higher peak of the mountain you can walk up to. Here they have a replica hut of the Cosmic Ray Station. You can see inside and what it would have looked like years ago. It's worth it for the view to do the short walk to the top.
Back down in Banff it was time for a late lunch. We stopped at the Waldhaus Pub which is a little bit Bavarian and well worth visiting! Great atmosphere and great reasonably priced food.
That evening we took a drive up to Banff's hot springs. We sat in the springs where it was -12c outside the water and 37-40c inside the water! It wasn't expensive at all and as I was in Canada for a winter trip, I hadn't packed swimmers but they were available for rent very cheaply. Of course, if you'd rather not rent there are plenty of shops in Banff itself where you can pick swimmers up. They also supply towels and lockers. We arrived in the darkness and I would have loved to have gone back in the day time to sit in the wawter looking at the amazing mountains.
The experience of the hot springs was very pleasant but it was a little like being in an outdoor swimming pool as it was all tiled like a real pool. If you're looking for a more natural experience try Lussier or Harrison Hot Springs.
This was definitely one of my favourite New Year Days ever! We headed back to Canmore that night and set the alarm early for our return to Vanvouver. We had four days until our flight was leaving but we wanted to stop on the return trip to do some ice-fishing, if possible.
We woke up fairly early and began the drive back to Vancouver. Wanting to leave enough time to stop at places of interest we went off the highway in places to take the more scenic routes.
I don't remember a lot about this return journey- there was much stopping on the side of the road for photographs. Trying to capture a glimpse of an avalanche in the distance etc. The sunset views were also amazing.
We arrived into a small town just outside Kamloops where we discovered that it was free to hire fishing equipment. Thinking this was our chance to go ice-fishing we went to the Kamloops Tourist Information Centre. It turns out, you can have the rods for free but they're for fly fishing and seeing as in December, the lakes are frozen, the fly fishing rods wouldn't be much use to us! The very helpful people pointed us in the direction of a sports shop where we were able to pick up a rod and some bait for a very small cost. The cashier drew us a map to a variety of lakes where he said there would probably be some people out fishing who would drill a hole for us. The day looked like it was going to get exciting... and we had no idea how exciting!!
It felt like we had driven miles out of Kamloops into the middle of nowhere and we couldn't find the name of this lake. We found another lake and thought we may as well head down and see if anyone was there and willing to drill a hole for us. Despite that noone was on the lake we still went for a little stroll as the snow had recently fallen and it was untouched. There's something about fresh snow- seems to lure you in!
Eventually, we had seen a sign for the lake recommended by the cashier at the sports shop. That's when the unthinkable happened. I put the car in the ditch. One minute we were driving along and the next, it was like the car was being pulled off the road in slow motion. There was nothing I could do but slow down and hope that there was no damage to the car when we finally came to a stop. Fortunately, there was no damage but we were well and truly stuck. Ironic really, we had covered over a thousand miles through the Candian Rockies, Rogers Pass and here we were on a flat, clear road and in our first pickle! It just so happens that up ahead, a car had seen all of this unfold as they were turning off the road. Being good citizens, they pulled back on to the main road and within minutes they were rescuing us. We had rope tied around the bumper and I had strict instructions about what to do with the accelerator and wham, we were out in a jiffy! Canadians are just the friendliest people. Next thing we know, this couple and their son announce they're heading off ice-fishing and would we like to join them for the day. They had food and rods and bait and gloves and everything. Considering this was our last proper full day in Canada, it was definitely one of our best, most memorable and favourite days!
Of course, I didn't catch anything and Will caught about seven trout. If you're ever reading this, Nico and Tina, we will always be so grateful for you rescuing us in January 2013!