Tag Archives: Canada

“Hello winter” Maligne Lake canoe trip

This trip was just awesome! Great people, great scenery, and so many laughs. We had “paradise to ourselves” for two straight days. Top three trip of summer for sure along with Berg Lake and Mt Temple.

"Paradise to ourselves" at one of the most photographed locations in the world. An icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island.
“Paradise to ourselves” at one of the most photographed locations in the world. An icon of the Canadian Rockies, Spirit Island.

It sounds like everything went as planned right? Don’t be fooled though, it didn’t start out as well as it finished. There were problems. Like waking up…

A big night out for birthday celebrations the night before didn’t help our cause. We could forget “let’s be paddling by 10am”. Just pretend that was never said – we only began paddling at 12:20pm. We didn’t know if we were going to make it! We still had 22 long kilometres ahead of us to get to Coronet campground.

The first couple of hours didn’t get much better either even though our spirits were sky high. We had our first break only a few hundred metres from the start, we were battling into a headwind, and at our first change over break Joel discovered his only jacket was dripping wet. Of course he left his other jacket at home and only had packed a sleeping bag and some food into his huge backpack.

Joel discovers his jacket mishap.
Joel discovers his jacket mishap.

Despite the less than perfect situation we were all as happy as kids in a candy store. Joking about how crazy we were going on a canoe trip while it’s snowing and daily highs of just 5 to 7 degrees. We wanted to check where we were on the map but of course we didn’t know where the map was (when I got home I found it in my pocket).

We knew we had to do two things though. Keep paddling and most importantly keep this canoe the right way up. Capsizing here is no joke. So we did our best to keep near the shoreline out of the way of the tour boats’ wake. Jackie was the expert on this front, us Aussies need serious practice at keeping a canoe straight!

Thankfully the headwind disappeared after the first break and paddling became a soothing and relaxing motion. The sun even came out for a while and everything was just perfect. The mountains were beckoning in the distance, and the blue waters extended as far as the eye could see.

The mountains got bigger and more dramatic the further we paddled.

There were a few moments where it looked like the lake just ended, even though we knew it didn’t. It reminded me of how your eyes play tricks with your mind when climbing a mountain. It looks like the summit is just ahead until you get there and find it was just a false one.

Because of the “ahem” map issue, we only found out where we were when we stumbled upon Spirit Island. Somehow we completely missed our bail out option of Fishermans Bay campground, but it was all good. We were going to make it!

We knew the world famous Spirit Island was 15km in so with another two hours of paddling to go we had time to burn baby. A break on the island was in order.

We're here already! Burning time in paradise.
We’re here already! Going to make our goal.

On a side note the reason Spirit Island is famous is because an amateur photographer entered the image into a photo contest, and won first prize, upon which the photo was enlarged to billboard size and displayed in Grand Central Station, New York for a number of years.

Another interesting note is that the island is only an actual “island” for a few weeks of the year when the glacial waters melt and fill the lake. The rest of the time it’s still connected to the land, as you can see above.

From Spirit Island to the end of the lake the mountains loomed all around us. It was a sight to behold and Joel and I both agreed that these landscapes rival the Berg Lake region for sheer dramatic scenery.

We headed that way!
Not too much further…

We made camp just before dark and enjoyed a fire and warm pasta, which never ceases to do the trick after a long day. Once again, there was no one else around and upon signing the book we proposed the idea “will we be the last ones to camp here in 2013?” Joel volunteered to come back next year to confirm or deny our hopeful suspicions…

The next day we unfortunately had to leave this place and head for home. The weather was cloudier, colder, and snowier today, but not to worry. The “Earlybirds” as we ironically called ourselves can handle any deadline.

Needless to say we got underway later than planned and pulled away at 11am. This time only 2 hours behind schedule – we’re improving!

Beautiful surroundings.
Beautiful surroundings.

A few hours of paddling and the weather took a bit of turn. The waves picked up beyond what’s comfortable in a canoe, which lets face it isn’t much, so we pulled ashore and waited it out. Jackie amazingly found comfort sleeping on a tree trunk! We really connected with nature on this trip that’s for sure.

Waiting out the worst of it was a smart move.
Waiting out the worst of it was a smart move.

Strangely after this point the waters were almost as flat as a pancake. Brilliant paddling even if the temperature plummeted from a balmy 5 degrees down to a biting 2.8 degrees. Then it started snowing even more. All layers of clothing on!

Team Earlybirds in full flight.
Team Earlybirds in full flight.

With one last break and the end in sight we jumped in the canoe for the last time. Within an hour and a half we were back at the dock. Mission complete. Against all odds we had made it.

For all of us it was our first canoe trip. 44km in 15 hours of paddling in less than perfect conditions.

What a brilliant trip team. Thanks for the memories. And remember even if everyone says “you know there’s snow at Maligne Lake don’t you?” it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it!

This is going straight to the pool room.
This is going straight to the pool room.

Whistler first impressions

It’s a couple of days now since I left homely Jasper in search of the famous ski town of Whistler. Here’s some of my first impressions…

The first item of worthy mention – the huge 750km drive really took it out of me; I don’t know if that’s the sole reason I’ve been feeling below par these last couple days but 10 hours of travel certainly can’t help.

Awesome scenery near Kamloops
Awesome scenery near Kamloops (visible in the distance at the end of the lake)

The first 550km was straight forward highway driving, then the last 200km was all twisty mountainous roads. A lot more fun and interesting to drive on but when you just want to get some tucker and a bed not so great.

The roads around Lillooet were down right wild, narrow tunnels cutting under the railway, followed by single lane wooden bridges over creeks and canyons. Then you were climbing up switchbacks and not long after descending down windy snake-like roads.

The quirky mountain town Lillooet
The quirky mountain town Lillooet

I got lucky around these twisty spots and sighted my first ever bear, a little black bear cub. So awesome!

The best shot I got before he ran away into the scrub, presumably to Mama bear. No way was I leaving the car!
The best shot I got before he ambled off into the scrub, presumably to Mama bear. No way was I leaving the car!

Now that I’m here in Whistler the second thing that springs to mind is how damn quiet it is here. With ski season just about all over red rover it’s understandable but was unexpected. The hostel I’m staying at was part of the athletes village when the winter Olympics were held here in 2010. Very nice facilities even though it’s 7km from Whistler village.

Walking through the village yesterday I can conjure up what it might have all looked like just a couple of months ago.  Snow covering everything in sight and skiers and snowboarders rushing to get up the gondola. Then after a big day on the hill caving into the irresistible warmth of the coffee shops, restaurants and pubs. The glow of the fireplace oh so tempting through the icy windows.

Whistler Olympic Plaza with some of Whistler Mountain visible behind
Whistler Olympic Plaza with Whistler Mountain visible behind

Today is Thursday and on Monday Whistler Mountain closed for the season leaving only about half the Blackcomb Mountain chairlifts still open. Which brings me to my third point…for all the talk of how gigantic Whistler and Blackcomb are, from the village they really don’t look it. Not at all. I proposed this to someone who actually has skied here and he said you can’t see the top from the village and the terrain is endless. Looks can be deceiving.

Over the next few weeks I can only imagine it will remain really quiet here as the ski season finishes up and Whistler is transformed into a mountain biking mecca. The official mountain biking season starts up on May 18; wish I could fast forward time by a month for a couple of days then rewind it.

As a side note yesterday was the warmest day I’ve felt for over 5 months! +17 I heard and with the sun out too – arrr how great the warm sun feels again.

“Moose”ing about

What an awesome experience! Just me and a moose in an up close and personal encounter for nearly half an hour.

Here’s how the story unfolded…

I went for a drive to Spray Lakes in search of a “photogenic” sunset. What? No sun? The sun didn’t come out at all. Oh well I thought – another day.

Then as I was walking back to the car I spotted a prime “car photo” opportunity. So I jumped in and moved around into perfect position – wheels turned and all.

Camera in hand, I jumped out and started running down the snow covered road for the photo. “Woah”! I stopped in my tracks. Something big, brown and tall about 100 metres away.

A moose! It’s elongated horse-like head gave it away straight up. What else did I see? No antlers. Mrs Moose.

I scurried back to the car pretty quick though I can tell you that. My first thought was I can drive up and get a photo out the window. But then I remembered what Damien had told me.

So I stayed in the car, windows up, just a tad anxious as it was coming.

12/12/12 - I see it approaching!
12/12/12 – It’s coming!

Next thing I know I’ve got a big moose licking the boot. I can see it in the rearview. Yep Damien was right! Moose love licking cars. Random I know but I’ve since found out it’s for the salt.

I figured what could possibly go wrong… so cautiously opened my door and hopped out. As I moved around the car to get a photo so did she. Always one eye on me and one tongue on the car.

12/12/12 - Huh?
12/12/12 – Big alright hey. See where she’s licked already?

She was a peaceful giant though, if I moved towards her she would back off and run away. Then slowly and carefully amble back to the (unbeknownst to me) astronomic salt supply. But as you can see I got really close, only a metre or two away. Amazing stuff.

12/12/12 - Just me and a moose
12/12/12 – Just me and a moose
12/12/12 - Compare the pair
12/12/12 – Compare the pair

Cowboy country near Calgary

Cowboy country. Where big belt buckles are earned and worn with pride, where just about every vehicle is a monterous “truck”, where coffee is downed like there’s no tomorrow, and where conversations revolve around that last successful (or unsuccessful) hunting trip.

It’s a place where the neighbour’s house is a five minute drive away, where being asked “Do you rodeo?” is the norm, where tobacco is chewed, not smoked, and where the Cowboy of the Year lives 10 minutes down the road.

Yep, this is life on the cattle ranch.

29/11/12 - Herding cattle down the road
29/11/12 – Herding cattle down the road on a chilly -10 degree day

It was fantastic staying on the ranch these past ten days. I got an insight into a completely different lifestyle – and climate! “It’s a bit chilly out” was John’s way of saying it’s -15.

Along with feeding the cows and jumping hay bales, I got to see the “Hoodoos” rock formation and the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. Amazing. No wonder it’s one of the most complete dinosaur museums in the world. As you walk through it you are walking through time, from 500 million years old to 10 000 years ago.

The "Hoodoos" in the Drumheller badlands. To the natives they represent evil spirits turned to rock
4/12/12 – The “Hoodoos” in the Drumheller badlands. To the natives they represent evil spirits turned to rock.
4/12/12 - Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller
4/12/12 – Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller

The Bass Pro shop in Calgary was mind blowing as well. Literally hundreds of stuffed animals makes the place more of a museum than an outdoor store. Waterfalls, fishtanks and fake life sized trees all included in the “experience”. And it is an experience, check it out.

4/12/12 - The pack of wolves and herd of caribou in Bass Pro, Calgary
4/12/12 – The pack of wolves and herd of caribou in Bass Pro store, Calgary

What else? Well at the local stockyards cattle auction I learnt the ranchers had developed a sixth sense – understanding the auctioneer! I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe how anyone can possibly 1. talk that fast; and 2. be understood.

The Olympic standard speed skating rink at the Calgary university was spectacular and the speed of the skaters equally so. Most of the speed skating world records were set on this ice in fact. The fastest ice in the world.

My camera is filling up with too many photos I want to share so check out my new page “Canada snaps!” by scrolling to the top and clicking the tab, or click here. What’s your favourite picture?

Tofino surfing success


Tofino is without a doubt my favourite  place so far. It’s a really small laid back seaside town with only one road in and out. It feels like a well kept secret.

The surfers here are nuts about surfing – they’ll go surfing all day everyday if they can – or go out in the morning, break for lunch, then back out in the afternoon.

23/11/12 – Stunning Tofino, BC Canada. The Tonquin trail lookout.
23/11/12 – The Tonguin trail in Tofino, BC

I achieved a goal – I stood up on a surfboard and caught a wave! Yay.

Something that I couldn’t do on my attempt back home. It was so much fun – even when the water temperature was 7 degrees. A thick wetsuit with hoodie, boots and gloves works wonders. Even caught some waves!

24/11/12 – Surfing Chestermans Beach, Tofino

The Schooner Cove trail was well worth the 30km round trip bike ride

And the ferry trip from Nanaimo back to Horseshoe Bay, Vancouver wasn’t too bad either.

27/11/12 – Looking back towards Vancouver Island at 4pm

Now I’m in Calgary on a cattle farming ranch. Today it was -10 degrees! I’ll post some pictures up in my next post.

“Whale watching” in the US of A

Yep I like to call it a “whale watching” tour. The company that runs it calls it a “wildlife” tour since it’s winter and not the best time of year to see whales. They don’t want you to get your hopes up too much!

It was a bit of a late decision but I made it to fisherman’s wharf in Victoria right on time. Brett, our cheery tour guide, said “it’s about a 50/50 chance we’ll see a whale.” I was feeling lucky.

Weather was heavily overcast (no rain luckily) and 8 degrees. Wind chill at 50km/hr on the water makes it waayyyy colder though so thankfully he gave out big, dorky looking jackets, pants, beanies, and mits.

The twelve of us hit the Canadian waters of Juan de Fuca Strait at 1pm in search of “30 foot high sprays of water.” The air was unbelievably clear – the snow-capped Olympic mountains were far away but appeared in full HD display. Almost touchable.

22/11/12 – The Olympic Peninsula in the U.S.
22/11/12 – The Race Rocks lighthouse with the Olympic mountains in the distance

Today we were the only whale watching boat out (20-30 in summer) so it felt pretty special.

Brett got a call from one of his U.S. mates who’s friend had spotted a humpback 28 nautical miles away in U.S. waters. We decided to go for it.

It was now that I fully appreciated the intricate art of driving a speed boat fast through choppy water. On the gas – back off – bang – ON THE GAS – OFF THE GAS – BANG – BANG.

We stopped by Race Rocks to the definite smell, sound, and sight of steller sea lions. “Grizzly bears with flippers,” Brett called them.

22/11/12 - Stellar sea lions on Race Rocks, British Columbia Canada
22/11/12 – Stellar sea lions on Race Rocks, British Columbia Canada

Also on the rocks were elephant seals and harbour seals. Quite stunning. These harbour seals have lived their whole life at Race Rocks, 80% of the time just laying on the rocks. In fact, only when the tide comes in and literally lifts them off the rocks do they bother moving.

22/11/12 - The lazy but efficient hunters - harbour seals on Race Rocks
22/11/12 – The lazy but efficient hunters – harbour seals on Race Rocks

Anyway, an hour later we arrived where the humpback was sighted earlier – Spieden Island (owned by the owner of Oakley as a random fact).

We looked and looked, but nowhere to be seen – the Americans just couldn’t deliver. Bit of a shame but hey the wildlife we did see here was well worth it. Bald eagles, brown pelicans, and hundreds of other birds. Plus big-horned sheep (who would have thought), and Dall’s porpoise came swimming alongside us jumping the bow waves.

So all in all a really enjoyable, educational and freezing day out. But yep they got me. I think I’ll call it a “wildlife” tour after all.

22/11/12 - Dall's porpoise on the way back to Victoria, BC
22/11/12 – Dall’s porpoise on the way back to Victoria, BC
21/11/12 – The famous parliament buildings in Victoria, BC Canada

“You know your holiday is close when…”

It’s only hit me in the last couple of days how close my trip actually is, and it got me thinking…

You know your holiday is close when…

  • You start seeing people for what you know will be the last time before you leave
  • You think “where will I be in a week today?”
  • You can’t sleep
  • You wear that favourite shirt for the last time
  • The necessity for you to be at home slowly disappears
  • You write a list of “things to pack”
  • Your finishing up your last assignment for the semester
  • What are the tell tale signs for you?

How to: Getting you to the slopes

So you’re an 18 to 30 year old Aussie and think a Canadian working holiday has your name written all over it? Yep I can see why…

Maybe it’s the postcard perfect surrounds? The friend who says it was the “best thing they have ever done”? The freedom to explore a new country and meet like-minded travellers? Or maybe it’s that white, fluffy stuff so foreign to us Aussies. Those are my reasons. What are yours?

Canada at sunrise. Credit to Damien Sundgren 2012.
Canada’s northern lights. Credit to Damien Sundgren 2012.
Banff, Canada after recent snowfall. Credit to Damien Sundgren 2012.

Over the past few months I’ve learnt a bit and I’d like to share it. A “How to guide” to Canada if you will. Here’s the process I’ve been through over the past four months.

1.   Canadian Working Holiday Visa ($150)

  •      Australian Federal Police (AFP) name check ($40)
  •      Queensland Department of Transport traffic history report ($20)
  •      Passport
  •      Passport photos ($10)

This was the most time consuming task. Do it first! The AFP name check, traffic history report, passport and passport photos need to be sorted first so they can be included in the application. Luckily I already had my passport which saved me time; however the AFP name check took a month to go through the system. After submitting the Visa application it took another two months for the Visa to be approved. It can be up to three months so get in early.

The other option available is to pay a company $800 and they’ll do the application for you and set you up with a job and accommodation before you leave. Up to you but I’m happy to sort that out myself – all part of the travelling experience in my opinion.

I went through the International Experience Canada (IEC) program on a Working Holiday permit.


2.   Flights/Tours

When you’ve got your Visa confirmation letter you’re finally free to book flights. I booked a one way flight to Vancouver through the very helpful team at Student Flights for $1200 (good value – flight was only a month away too).

At this stage I also locked in what is going to be a breathtakingly beautiful trekking tour in Iceland. Google “midnight sun Iceland”. Wow!

3.   Travel Insurance

Can definitely be exxy so price around, make sure snow cover is included if you’re skiing. I saved $800 through Student Flights after they price beat an online quote for me.

4.   International Drivers Permit

This entitles you to drive overseas as long as you have a valid Open drivers licence in Australia. Quick and easy $40 visit to RACQ.

5.   Visa Waiver Program (for travel to America)

Feel like you might take a quick sticky beak into the USA? Road trip down the California coast? 10 minutes online and $14 later you will be free to travel (not work) in the USA for a three month period.


6.   Lights, Camera, Action

12 days to go! Wow it’s really creeping up!

7.   To Do in Canada

Social Insurance Number (SIN) – the Canadian version of our Tax File Number (TFN)

Phone (cheap brick = bulletproof)

Accommodation (bit of a biggie)

Job (I’ve heard there’s plenty)

Ski gear and pass (top priority)

Flights home (remind me in 6 months)