Monday, 28 June 2010

Rockies Road Trip - Part 2 (Banff to Vancouver), 22nd - 27th June 2010

Today was set to be a busy day sightseeing Banff and the surrounding area.  We got up early to start our day.  It was a bit more overcast today but warm enough.  We headed for the Banff Gondola.  After a few photos with the massive Ice Explorer vehicles we headed up the gondola.  What an amazing panoramic view from up here.  It was a bit cooler up the top being a bit closer to the snow and more exposed to the wind.  We went for a walk up to the top peak to have a look around.  Typical kiwis we were and happened to be the only ones with jandals on, despite the signs warning you not to wear this kind of footwear.  I've definitely walked in worse conditions with them.  After several photo ops, encounters with chipmunks and a browse in the tourist shop we headed down for our next adventure.

We headed out of Banff towards Lake Louise and Lake Moraine.  With our eyes pealed the entire way we didn't manage to see any wild life on the way.  Maybe we are just looking too hard.  Now we had truely stuck beauty.  Driving into these kind of places is just breathtaking.  The water is just so clear and the snow covered mountains reflecting on the water is just something else!!  The pictures are fantastic but just don't quite do it justice.  This is probably one of the nicest lakes I have ever seen.  We had packed a picnic lunch so decided we would sit on the rocks here and have a picnic.  We soon became surrounded by chipmunks and there were a few ravens hanging around.  Man these things are massive and scary looking (the ravens I mean) wouldn't want one of these to peck you.  After a quick pit stop we were on our way again.

Next stop was Lake Louise, now if you ever come to the Rockies this is one of the places you will most likely come to.  It is pretty fantastic but to be honest I don't think you would find somewhere around here that isn't.  I personally enjoyed some of the other lakes more.  Still a must visit if you ever come this way.  We went for a walk around the lake to try and catch the sun and shadows at different places on the lake.  At different times of the day the lake can look different colours, from blue to green to turquoise.  Even within the space of half an hour or so the lake looked different colours.  We took a few silly photos here and then headed on our way again.  Now at this point I must add that we had decided to start doing some silly plank photos, in case you don't know doing "the plank" is lying down flat in some random place to take a photo just for fun.  There is no real reason just pure silliness.  You may see a few of these photos in here.

It was getting a bit late in the day and getting a bit cold so we decided to head back to Banff for a swim at the hot springs, very nice and relaxing way to end the day before dinner.  We went out to Wild bills for a good pub meal before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Today 23rd June was going to be a really long day, as most of our days seem to be.  Today we headed to Jasper along the Ice Fields Parkway, this drive was set to take us about 4 hours.  This section is probably one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on!!  The Rockies are just so impressive and the mountains are huge.  At this time of the year it's nice to still see the mountain tips covered in snow.  We got up early again and had a big breakfast before setting off.  As you have to go back towards Lake Louise to head to Jasper we decided to take the nature road again to try and find our bear.  Today we were successful, right along the side of the road we spotted a grizzly bear eating dandelions.  The car went crazy once again and the paparazzi were out.  We managed to get nice and close without being those dangerous types of tourists. We kept our distance and managed to get some great photos along with a video.  It's crazy watching some people get out of their cars just to get close to these animals, stupid people.  After a while of photos and once the ranger had turned up to control the gatherers we headed off on our way again.  We were all excited now.  Now to find a Moose.

First stop along this journey was Peyto Lake, now this lake is just stunning and such a gorgeous blue colour. The glacier used to fill this whole valley however has receded about 2 kilometers in the last century.  You can't walk down to the lake so we just had to observe it from up at the summit.  I just can't get enough of this beauty, stunning!!  We walked down through the shrubbery back to the car to continue.

Next stop was the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefields.  Another glacier that has receded several kilometers over time, where the information area and car park are used to be the glacier.  We decided to get in a big snow car and take a tour to the glacier.  What a fantastic trip and a must do if you are ever in the area in my opinion.  On the short trip up to the glacier we got to see some mountain goats.  No photos of these as they were gone by the time I got the camera out.  Now this big vehicle has to maneuver down this massive hill which is icy and extremely steep, quite scary as you start heading over the top of the hill and then end up almost vertical.  There were a few people in the car who were holding on pretty tight, I think we may have also got a short scream at one point.  Once we got to the glacier we were able to get out for about 15-20 mins to have a walk around.  We grabbed our drink bottles and dipped them into the stream that was running by, now you haven't tasted water till you have some straight off a glacier, it's just so cold and clean!! After walking around and a few more photos it was time to be on our way.  We headed back to the snow cars.  The journey back was just as fun however not so scary this time as we were prepared for the climb back up the hill.  Once back at the information area we had a bite to eat for lunch of some overly priced food and a walk around a couple of tourist shops before heading on our way again.

We stopped at several falls along the way including Tangle Falls off the side of the road, Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls.  Athabasca falls were by far the best.  The Athabasca river links the freshwater ice of the Columbia Icefield to the salt water of the Artic Ocean.  It was very impressive, and not somewhere you'd like to find your self ending up after paddling down the river.  It wouldn't just be cold but I'm sure you'd get stuck in one of the many nooks and crannies the ice and river water has made.  We took a few more photos and videos then set off on our way again.

We arrived in Jasper around dinner time.  After checking into our accommodation we decided to have a look through the town of Jasper to find some where for dinner.  Then collected a few things for a BBQ for tomorrow and headed back to the accommodation.  We decided it would be a nice evening to have a look around the area we were staying briefly.  We jumped in the car and headed to Pyramid Island.  This is a small island that has been popular with locals and visitors since 1930 when the first foot bridge was built.  It has a short 600m walk around the island to enjoy.  The island and the surrounding lake get their name from the mountain that looks over it:  Pyramid Mountain.  We had a walk around watching some of the chipmunks carrying around some rubbish the humans had left, such a shame people can be so thoughtless.  Despite that it was such a beautiful view on such a beautiful evening, I think there is nothing better than looking out across the water at the beautiful sky and mountains as the evening is closing in on you, just amazing!

We were staying in Jasper 2 nights so today 24 June we spent having a look around the Jasper area.  Today wasn't the nicest day we have had in our trip, it was a bit cloudy and cool this morning.  We decided to still take the 40 min drive towards Maligne lake.  I know what you are thinking, "not another lake" but this is a must see in the Rockies.  Maligne Lake is famed for the colour of is water, surrounding peaks and the three peaks visible from the lake and Spirit island.  It is one of the most photographed locations in the world, and it is truly beautiful.  I could only imagine how stunning this would be on a sunny day, as it was still stunning on a cloudy day.  We waited for our boat and hopped on for our hour trip out to Spirit Island.  Now spirit island is nothing too exciting just an island with several trees on it and a walk, however if I could be there and be surrounded by such beauty each and every day I think I'd be pretty "spirited" myself.  After a few photos and a quick stop we headed back to the start.

Oh I forgot to mention.  On our way to the lake we managed to see some more wildlife, turns out it just pops up when you least expect it.  While driving down the road we wondered what that thing was running down the side of the road heading straight towards us.  Turns out is was a proud red fox, who was carrying its prey back home.  We couldn't believe our luck, you can't get more wild life than an animal with its prey!!  Along the journey we also managed to see some elk and some big horn mountain sheep.

The day was beginning to brighten up a bit and the sun was trying to come out.  We were still on the look out for Moose so made a few stops on our way back towards Jasper.  We made a stop at Medicine lake on the way to Maligne Canyon.  Waters from Maligne River flow into Medicine Lake however never appear to flow out.  Medicine Lake does dry up in the summer months though leaving a thin channel of water which disappears into the shoreline.  The water from here then makes it way through Maligne canyon.  We went for a walk around the canyon area looking way down towards the water.  We managed to hear a woodpecker on the way but couldn't quite see it.  It's so hard to even hear where the sound is coming from as it seems to echo off all the walls.  We finished off the walk and jumped back into the car to finish our exploring.

Next stops were Lake Annette and Lake Edith, now these are the kinds of lakes you want to have a swim in.  The water is just so clear and clean, with the reflections of the mountains in them.  Just beautiful!!  Such a pity we didn't bring our togs with us.  We headed back to the motel to decide what our next plan of action was.  Once back at the motel Cam and I decided that you couldn't come to the Rockies and not have a swim in a glacier fed lake.  So we got our togs on and headed down to Patricia lake.  Now this water is freezing, well not quite but pretty dam close!!  If I was to guess I would say approx 6-8 degrees, the type of cold that no matter how long you are in the water you never seem to catch your breath.  We managed to stay in for a few photos (none of which I can post sorry as they are on Mum's camera) and a very quick swim, before getting out and heading to the spa which was conveniently located just a few minutes walk away.  There is nothing quite like sitting in a spa pool all warm, when the air around you is freezing, surrounded by snow covered mountains!!  Don't think I'll ever get used to that.

After the swim we took advantage of the nice evening to have a BBQ before heading to bed after our busy day.

Well tonight was the last night of our Rockies Road Trip.  Another long 4 hour drive to Kamloops.  We started out reasonably early on the 25th June.  We only made one stop on the way to Kamloops at Spahats falls.  This big waterfall comes flying out of the side of the cliff face down to the rocks below.  Quite impressive, what I thought was more interesting was that the cliff face below the path you walk on to get to the lookout has a massive crack down to the base of it.  This was caused by an earthquake in the past.  Glad they told us about this once we had walked over it.  Still worth it in the end I guess.  After a short stop here were continued on to Kamloops, we wanted to get here at a reasonable hour.  It's amazing how it can warm up so much after a short distance of travelling.  While in Banff and Jasper the temperature had dropped a bit being closer to the mountains.  However now in Kamloops the temperatures were back up to the 30's again.

To cool off we headed down to the Thompson River at Riverside park in Kamloops for a bit of a swim.  After trying to help rescue a few stupid people who were nearly being carried off down the river on airbeds, we plunged into the river.  It was very refreshing, not quite as cold as the last swim but still takes your breath away.  We collected some food and took advantage of the nice weather again for a BBQ on the deck for dinner.  Tonight was just a relaxing night before our journey back to Vancouver.

Today was set to be another 4 hour drive and we had one stop along the way so once again we were up for an early start.  We headed for Hell's gate.  At hell's gate you take and Airtram down the cliff face, across the Fraser river and to the platform on the other side.  Over here you learn about the history of the area, can have some food and watch the waters roaring past.  Here the towering rock walls of the Fraser River plunge toward each other forcing the waters through a passage only 35 m wide.  Such a large amount of water powering down through such a small gap.  We hung around here for a while watching the hummingbirds, having and ice cream and taking a few photos before heading back to the airtram and to continue our journey home to Vancouver.  After dinner out in Vancouver we called it a night.

That concludes our 9 day, 2200 kilometer trip of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  My advise to anyone would be that this is a must do trip in your lifetime if you can manage it, however I would try to take at least 2 weeks and spend more time in each area.  This is such an amazing and beautiful place, just breathtaking!!

I'm going to add one more day onto this trip.  We had to make use of Cam's time off and the rental of our car so we decided to add in one more day trip.  Today we got up early again to head to Whistler.  Now Whistler is another place that you have to visit if heading to Vancouver.  Whether you are here in summer or in winter there is plenty to see and do.  We decided we had to see one of the local waterfalls so stopped off at Shannon falls.  Still a great waterfall however after what we had seen in the last several days it wasn't as impressive as the other ones.  After about 15 min here we continued on our way.  Once in Whistler we had to bundle up a bit more, it was a bit of an overcast day and was a bit cold.  We headed up on the Gondola.  Along the way we managed to see 2 black bears on the side of the mountain.  By the time we got the cameras out they were gone though, perhaps we can see them on the way down.  Once at the top we had a few photos in the snow, yes snow in the middle of summer.  It's hard to believe that this time last year there was hardly any snow and this year it was everywhere, there were still people snowboarding in the glaciers and it's near the end of June.

After perusing some of the tourist shops and getting some cheap bargains on T-shirts we headed across on the peak to peak to Blackcomb mountain.  There wasn't much more to see over here other than a different view, so after some photos we went back across the peak to peak to Whistler mountain and down the Gondola.  We had the cameras out however the bears had gone.  After a walk around Whistler village and the shops we were on our way home again.  Now Cam and I have traveled this road several times and never seen a bear.  This time however we were lucky, not only a bear but a black bear and her cub just walking along one of the side roads.  We did a U turn and took some photos from the other side of the road.  Don't think we have any chance of seeing a Moose now so we continued.

Once back in Vancouver we took the scenic ride home first stopping up Cypress Mountain, one of the local mountains to get a view back over Vancouver and the city.  Such a clear day for it and we managed to see one of the cruise ships leaving, perfect timing.  Now we drove through Stanley park to the lookout where we watched the cruise ships continue their journey out of the harbour and even managed to get a picture of a raccoon!!  What an amazing holiday.

Wildlife seen:  Deer, Marmot, Mountain Goat, Mountain Big Horn Sheep, Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Elk, Red Fox, Squirrel, Chipmunk, Raven and Raccoon.