Best things to do in Canada
The Canada road trip plan is born
We were invited to a wedding in Ontario. This was therefore also a once in a decade chance to visit my sister, who has chosen to live as far away from me as she could get – Vancouver Island (should I be taking the hint?).
And, if we were doing this – I really wanted to show the boys my favourite scenery of all time, the magnificent snow-capped Rockies, on the way. In the end the wedding venue, in the manner of the Tardis, moved in time and space to a different country, but our Canadian flights were pretty much booked by then so we went anyway, including our Canada Road Trip across the Rockies.
Here are the details of our once in a lifetime trip with top tips on what not to miss and pit falls to avoid.
Getting there - what to know before going to Canada?
How do you book multiple flights in Canada?
Having looked into booking flights over the internet, it quickly became apparent that we needed help. There were too many options, and what if one leg of the journey fell through and we’d booked each stage independently?
Trailfinders provided the answer. We could book a flight to Calgary with free stop overs in Iceland and Toronto on the way, and fly back out of Vancouver, for effectively the price of one return ticket (about £700). They would also have our backs in case of any problems. They helpfully told us that September is the time to book for the following summer as this is when the cheapest flights are released.
(Don’t forget to get an ETA visa on line in advance.)
Car hire for a Canada road trip across the Rockies
We pre-booked one way car hire from Calgary to Vancouver – through Zest (winner of Which? awards – see travel top tips). To save money we did not go for the in-car satnav. We had google maps on our phones and there were not too many horrific city centres to navigate. Be fine.
How do you get to Vancouver Island?
A $14 foot passenger ferry was booked for the way out.
We couldn’t afford it both ways, but as a treat to soften the blow of having to leave the family for another 4 years, we booked the sea plane from Nanaimo back to the mainland ( $129 1 way per adult/ $70 for a child up to 12).
There is limited luggage room on the flying tin can, but if you want a better chance of them being able to fit it in (and join you on your connecting international flight) you can drop off your bags the day before and they fly it over for you on an emptier fight (or, to induce a bit of panic, they can just pop it in the corner where you spot it when you turn up the next day to check in).
Where can you stay on a Canada road trip in the Rockies?
In the spirit of not very adventurous travellers, we pre-booked all accommodation for our 10 day Rockies’ tour, mainly because the mountains fill up with millions of tourists in the summer, there are limited options for places to stay and we we had a party of 4 to house in a family room each evening without busting the bank. In order to keep the average cost to about $150pn, we had alternated cheap hostel/tent accommodation with occasional outbursts of olde world log cabin style luxury.
Canada road trip tip 1 – Pre-book Rockies accommodation
How do you get out of Canada as a single parent?
It’s worth knowing that in order to enter or leave Canada with children and with only one parent, you need some kind of documentary proof that the other parent has agreed to this. Got husband to write a “to whom it may concern” letter. Felt very odd getting his permission, like I was in Victorian times but if you don’t you’ll be in deep water at customs.
Canada road trip tip 2 – Try a seaplane to Vancouver Island for the same price as a normal one
Part 1 - A week in the wilds of Ontario
Dorset Lake House
Week 1 was spent at the original wedding venue, a lakeside house/mansion for 14 in Dorset, 3 hours north of Toronto, complete with 17 acres, a historic wooden lodge for 4, its own lake with inflatable jumpy island and a fleet of canoes, pedalos and rowing boats. Yay. An added bonus is that wolves prowl the perimeter, and can be summoned by the local wolf howler. If you are not related you can rent the whole place from Home and Away
It is a very different kind of Dorset, being just down the road from Algonquin national park, Big Foot’s stomping ground. You know you’re out of town when you have to don a full-on fly suit for a stroll up the hill on the other side of the lake (having rowed across in a flotilla of small craft), and the prospect of meeting a wolf is putting you off going to the outside loo in the night.
Although there is a local wood shack style store a couple of miles down the road (where you can buy a bit of reindeer hide with your pint of homogenised milk), you can also drive to Huntsville for proper shopping about 40km away.
To finish the week, we drove to sister-in-law’s city house in Toronto for a day trip to Niagara. Niagara itself is a Las Vegas look-o-like on the cheap. Waterbeds are on offer everywhere and even the Marriott had a Jacuzzi in the open plan kitchenette. It comes with oversized plastic dinosaurs, Frankenstein themed burger bars and even the odd Elvis impersonator and generally feels a lot more American than Canadian.
We headed down to the main event, the falls. The view from the top is incredible, you can almost touch the water. We hadn’t booked ahead, so had no idea which was the best or cheapest tour, but we could see a small boat being buffeted about at the foot of the falls and really wanted a go.
We quickly bought wi-fi, then purchased tickets for the nearest Hornblower boat ($28/adult $18/child) on our phone. Thought we’d skip the queue this way, but the queue was not to buy the tickets (3 people in this one) but to snake your way down to the boat once you have a ticket (about 300 in this one). Also, you enter the attraction by way of an enormous concrete queuing tunnel, totally wiping out access to recently –bought wifi and all evidence of ticket purchase.
Canada road trip tip 3 – Buy a real paper ticket for Niagara Falls from the booth, much easier and no wi-fi required
Exiting the tunnel we donned our pink plastic ponchos in 30 degree heat, feeling a bit like vacuum packed supermarket chickens, whilst waiting dockside for the final sweaty 30 minutes for our turn to board the boat.
On board it’s like someone repeatedly chucking buckets of water on you as you sidle up to the roaring falls (but in a good way).
Canada road trip tip 4 – Don’t wear white or any fancy holiday attire on your Niagara Hornblower. You will get wet!
Part 2 - Canada road trip across the Rockies (Calgary to Vancouver)
Road trip day 1: Cowboy Calgary to beary Banff
for our second leg of the journey the plan was to fly out of Toronto and into Calgary, then head straight into the Rockies. I’d line danced with cowboys in the streets of Calgary in an earlier life, but this time we were after nature.
Setting off on our Canada road trip into the Rockies, we immediately regretted viewing a sat nav as an unnecessary car hire expense. The phone signal turned out to not be great at cutting through the mountains. Using paper maps we battled against foggy jet-lagged minds to navigate our beautiful mountain wilderness way to Banff.
Canada road trip tip 5 – Order an in-car satnav. Phone signals struggle to get through mountains
Banff - eating, sleeping and bears
Having chosen the Buffalo Mountain Lodge, with various animal parts providing lobby decor for £210pn, we were unable to afford tea. But not to worry, I had been to Banff 20 years previously and knew there were eating options in town. It was about a mile to the centre, but the walk was partly in the woods and not totally on the pavement-free road and also down hill and quite sunny.
Sadly, Banff was full. Literally teeming.
Canada road trip tip 6 – Book a table in Banff if you want to eat
Every restaurant had its own pet queue outside, and those that didn’t simply took your name and told you to come back in about 2 hours. We put our name down at 2 restaurants but man/boy hunger was setting in. As it was our wedding anniversary, I drew the line at McDonalds (which was also mobbed) on this occasion but the bar was set only slightly higher at the subterranean bowling/sports bar with its no-Rockies view and pizzas at $25 a pop. Not the budget or the scenic dining experience I had envisaged for our Rocky adventure. Still, the pizzas were big, too big in fact. Deciding to take some home for a late night snack, we headed back up the hill/mountain, in the semi-dark, with fragrant warm pizza. This was when I suddenly remembered the bears. And the no food outside rule. Picked up the pace to a near sprint and ended the night with an Elk based cocktail in the Wild West hotel bar under the head of a bison.
Canada road trip tip 7 – Don’t take away pizzas into the woods
Canada road trip tip 8 – Do try an Elk based cocktail under a bison’s head
Road trip day 2: Sulphurous Mountain and sticky hot springs in Banff
This was Big Walk day. These had to be few and far between to keep the younger generation on side. I had done this walk up Sulphur Mountain in my youth and although I remembered that it was a pretty dull route, essentially just zigzagging under the cable car line all the way up, the views at the top were unsurpassed in the subsequent 20 years of big walks.
The plan was to take the cable car up to admire the view and cut out the slog – but it was about $33 each and our legs were just-out-of-bed fresh so somehow we ended up doing the dull steep walk again. Doh. We arrived at the top to find the wildfires had stolen the view anyway so, jelly-legged, we took the gondola back down to the public swimming bath hot springs at the bottom. A bargain at about a fiver, but a bit too hot on a sticky wildfire summers day.
Canada road trip tip 9 – Take the gondola up Sulphur mountain and walk back down. (The sulphur pools work best on a chilly day.)
Aiming to avoid beary woods and the dinner queues back in town, we bit the bullet and went for animal based dinner in the hotel, where all the local wildlife could be spotted, if not in real life, then on the menu at least.
Road trip day 3: 3 favourite lakes in 1 day (Louise, Moraine and take a bow, Bow)
Banff to Lake Louise – there are 2 routes:
Route 1 – the fast highway.
Route 1A – the parallel Canada road trip route that is only open in the summer so wildlife can roam freely over it for most of the year. If you take this route, you are pretty much guaranteed to see all sorts of amazing creatures – cougar, elk, moose, bear. This is what I read the day after we followed Route 1. Gutted.
Canada road trip tip 10 – For a summer animal safari take Route 1a between Banff and Lake Louise. Send me a photo
As we pulled into the car park at Lake Louise, I was blissfully unaware of this school-girl wildlife viewing error and was simply happy to be returning to my favourite lake ever, and this time with the boys. The backdrop is straight out of a travel agent’s window display for Canada with its snowy peaks and fluorescently blue waters, towered over by walls of sheer rock.
As it was still our wedding anniversary weekend, we’d toyed with booking the huge Fairmont Chateau Hotel which overlooks it. Sadly, it was way out of our price range at something like £700 a night. Afternoon tea remained a possibility but the building itself is a bit of a soulless monolith and we suspected the guests would be in fancier attire than our own hiking garb.
At the foot of the lake, we spotted some canoeists heading out onto the milky water and thought that could be the treat instead. You could rent them from the booth by the car park – not even a queue. As it turned out, the boys were just over the weight limit for the family canoe and it would have cost about £200 for an hour for us all to go out. We’d probably have fallen into the icy water anyway.
Mountain fun was more expensive than I had anticipated.
Instead, we followed one of the trails up to a tearoom in the surrounding hills. It was like a scene from an edgy Snow White film, as cheeky chipmunks took bites from our picnic and fingers, and over-confident nutcrackers swooped like Cornish seagulls grabbing sandwiches from unsuspecting hands. A very pretty walk up took us past hidden lakes and vertical rock faces with views over waterfalls and glacial peaks. Bit of a queue for tea in the wooden café at the top meant still no cuppa for us.
Canada road trip tip 11 – Take a spectacular mountain trail to a tearoom for a Lake Louise treat.
For the descent, to avoid the crowds, we decided not to follow the well-worn trail path, but to take the deserted bridle path instead, thereby passing a bridle party discussing how much safer it was to encounter the many grizzly bears in the area on horseback, and how one had been sighted that very morning. As they trotted off we trotted a bit faster back the car park with strains of “If you go down to the woods today, you’d better go in disguise“ Teddy Bear’s Picnic song on an internal mind loop. Vowed to buy a bear bell.
Canada road trip tip 12 – Stick with the crowds if you want to avoid bears and buy a bear bell.
The Chateau being too princely a sum, my second sleeping choice had been the quirky timbered Deer Lodge, next to what looked like another amazing tract of water, Moraine Lake.
Despite researching accommodation options 9 months in advance however, this had already been fully booked. Even though we couldn’t stay there, and ignoring protestations from the family, who had clearly done enough lake-based exploring for one day, we took the one-way track driving detour to check out what instantly became my new favourite lake.
It had usual towering crags, white crested peaks and piercing blue water but also had spinning driftwood log piles to play on like human beavers. And a lakeside café for the weary of leg, so finally a cuppa too.
Canada road trip tip 13 – Do not miss Lake Louise’s twin and less crowded sister, Moraine Lake (with its spinny logs and cafe).
Following the chalky white Bow River along the very coolly named Icefields Parkway, on to the accommodation that had actually let us book it, we decided to bypass Mosquito Creek, for obvious reasons. Then, as if the 2 bodies of glacial water we had already been transfixed by that day were not enough to blow the mind, we arrived at, “best lake ever” – Bow Lake (which still holds the crown for me), and which very excitingly was our base for the next 2 days.
Very out of character, and only because I had the anniversary excuse, I had pushed the boat out and added a lake view at Num ti jah lodge, an old trading post complete with obligatory taxidermy for £210pn.
Canada road trip tip 14 – For olde world charm and turquoise waters book at night Num Ti Jah at Bow Lake.
The lodge had been founded in the 1800s by a red haired 19 year old Englishman who guided scientists, mountaineers, hunters and artists through the Rockies entertaining them with his wild character, quick wit and tall tales.
As there were no cafes or mini marts for hundreds of miles we booked in for another buffalo-based tea, under moose heads this time.
Road trip day 4: Bow River waterfall walk
This was the best walk of the Canada road trip, and mainly on the flat – my favourite kind. From right in front of the lodge, we took a trail around the edge of the lake, along the frothing river, following its course through canyons, trees then more of a rocky lunar landscape to its glacial waterfall source.
We lay on the hot flat black rocks as the white water thundered down them inches to our side. Perfect.
Canada road trip tip 15 – Best walk of the trip, up the glacial river from Bow Lake.
Road trip day 5: Drive up to Jasper in search of big game
With as yet no sightings of any decent sized wildlife, all our hopes were pinned on Jasper, where herds of deer reputedly roamed freely about town. On the way we stopped for a picnic by the never ending and always beautiful, Bow River.
On the road up to Jasper made an impromptu stop at a sign for Parker Ridge, which promised a walk to the tongue of a glacier. Rude not to. The flip side of the spontaneity was that we were not really prepared, resulting in an unintentional 3 hour hike (classed as “moderate” but fully up hill all the way and above the snowline) equipped only with camera, one small water bottle and clad in shorts. This was not Big Walk day either, and the ranks were mutinous, but perked up at the prospect of a mid-summer snowball fight on the way up.
Turning left at the top we were somewhat distracted in attempts to photograph the full sweep of the Saskatchewan glacier, by an attack of Jurassic sized horseflies munching angrily on our calf muscles.
Canada road trip tip 16 – See the tongues of 2 glaciers and have a snowball fight on the Parker Ridge trail (shorts are not ideal).
Heading further over rocky plains at the top, we sought respite from the incredible winds in some handy rock shelters. It was at this point, having run out of water and with no food, the 3 more sensible party members, decided to return and wait impatiently by the vehicle while Bear Grylls strode off to the right, on the longer trail into the wilds. And to be fair he didn’t die and did get the best photos.
We had used up most the day, but Athabasca glacier was still on the Canada road trip itinerary before our next accommodation for the night. We rocked up to the Columbia Icefield centre too late for a bus tour over the ice, but still had time for the shortish walk from the car park to the base of the icefield.
Husband, still with more energy and derring do/death wish (you decide) than the rest of us, ducked under the rope (with about 200 others), past the signs indicating risk of death by crevasse and on to the ice, whilst we admired the view in the safety zone standing like Jack and Rose in Titanic, as the icy wind poured down the valley over us.
Canada road trip tip 17 – You can join a bus tour over Athabasca Glacier itself if you get there in time.
Back on budget night, we had tried to stay in the YHA on the Icefields Parkway, just before you get to Jasper and next to a pretty waterfall (Hi Athabasca Falls hostel – £65 through booking.com ) but our booking got bumped so we spent 2 nights in Jasper instead, one in the budget Central Jasper YHA and the next in the fancy Pyramid Lake Resort for £158.
As we pulled into Jasper we were pleased to see some real elk cruising across the highway right in the middle of town, just as promised. Hooray. Finally!
Canada road trip tip 18 – Wildlife really does roam free on the streets of Jasper
The hostel is pretty basic. We had not gone for an en suite, which, as soon as we check in somewhere, I always regret. The room was quite cupboardy, but the kitchen/lounge area was spacious and there was a bit of an outside area for communal BBQ’s and children’s play (although boys very wary of straying too near any bushes for fear of what could lie within).
Canada road trip tip 19 – You can use your YHA card to get a 10% discount internationally
Road trip day 6 - The cavernously deep Malign Canyon
Spent a lot of this Canada road trip day on the road, driving around looking for more animals (without success this time), and heading in the general direction of Malign Canyon, so named because, before the invention of bridges, it was pure evil to cross. One look at it and you could see they had a point. Deep and raging.
A map at the top showed a 2 hour walk crossing all 7 bridges they have now managed to build (almost felt like showing off), with a welcome café to boot. We ended up doing the walk twice as a child lost the binoculars half way round.
Checked into Pyramid Lake resort and watched people become stranded in canoes in waves and tides you would not expect to see on a lake. Popped in the hot tub, lounged on the pontoon and drank wine on the balcony wearing hoods (nippy this high up, even in summer).
Road trip day 7: The big drive - Jasper to Kamloops
Let’s just say that this was not a good day.
The Canada road trip itinerary I had made, with a bit of help from Google maps, suggested that we would travel 6 hours to a point between Jasper and Vancouver. The guide book advised that we take Highway 1 (not Highway 5) via the Thompson river and Lytton, “one of most scenic highways in the world”. 6 hours in a car would be off-set by the magnificent scenery, was the line we fed the kids.
Also as instructed by the books, we had checked with the hotel in the morning to see if there were any road closures on our intended route. The wildfires were particularly prolific this year, several larger ones were raging out of control. We were reassured that all was good with the roads. To be fair we may not have said how far we were going. As we set off, we could see that the smoke had enveloped all of the mountains, leaving an eerie burned out post- apocalyptic world and very little majestic scenery.
We tried to tune into local news, but the reception was fuzzy. As it turned out, 96 miles down one of the roads, it was closed. Alternative routes and indeed roads in general are less plentiful than at home, and the result was a 200 mile round trip back to the main road, on top of a 6 hour journey, and requiring an in-car route re-plan without internet access. Or sat nav. Yikes.
The mood was low. As we headed into Kamloops, the radio came back to life and locals bemoaned the smoke pollution, which had pretty much confined them to their houses for a week. The smog got thicker. Radio reception crackled. We were on a motorway with no other traffic. We thought we heard through the static that this new road was also closed ahead, and, after a bit of panicked shouting, effected a u turn on the dual carriageway and were now heading back into the Big Smoke of Kamloops with no plan C.
Canada road trip tip 20 – Double check on the internet if any roads are closed due to wildfires before you set off. Have a route b plan anyway.
Kumsheen Rafting Resort
We cobbled together a third new plan with old-school paper maps as dusk set in and cruised down windy roads which fell off sharply around us. We were driving through wild animal territory, past Indian reservations and along gold panning rivers straight out of the wild west, before eventually arriving at Kumsheen rafting resort, 12 hours after setting off. Not surprisingly, it was closed. There was one lady still mopping up in the bar who could give us a map to our tent. Without a torch we were useless. A friendly neighbour showed us how to operate the Victorian era gas lamp which magically illuminated our Colonial, tenty cabin.
As if we were in the actual olden days, everything had a sepia tinge. Again, we had not really considered the bear factor when booking a canvas room. The prospect of loo trips in the night was not a welcome one. To make the night even less relaxing, mile-long trains thundered past on an hourly basis, whistling eerily, and lighting up the valley (and tent), casting 100 foot monstrous shadows across the mountain side.
Canada road trip tip 21 – Think about bears before booking a tent.
Road trip day 8: Lytton to Vancouver
Canada road trip tip 22 – Schedule note: Double driving estimates and schedule in time for some white water rafting
By the light of morning, we discovered the resort came with a lovely pool and café, at which it would have been great to hang out for the day, and maybe even try some rafting. But there would be no rafting for us – we had another appointment on our Canada road trip with a budget YMCA in Vancouver, the only vaguely affordable accommodation in town, at £90 a night. Having broken the back of the journey, it was scheduled to be a relatively short 3 hour drive today. We could do this.
No wildfires this time, but confusing motorway closures, gridlock and the American style town planning system with a traffic light on every block through the suburbs, meant another unenjoyable doubling of the time estimate entering Vancouver itself. Overshot the hostel. One way systems. Couldn’t park. Frayed tempers. The usual.
Where to stay as a family in Vancouver?
The YWCA was better than it sounds. With a spacious foyer, breakfast café and tables set amongst potted plants on the terrace, it was more than we had hoped for. (We had once stayed in the San Francisco YMCA where the pool was closed due to an unspecified virus and with swing saloon doors fitted in the communal bathrooms.)
Inside was fine, it was outside that was the problem. As we headed down town we started to notice that a zombie apocalypse had beaten us to it. Crowds of people scratching their heads until they bled, or rocking to and fro in their own worlds, lined both sides of the pavement. Abandoning our trip to China Town, we took refuge in a Starbucks behind a table of 10 policemen, who really would have been better off out on the streets tackling the forces of darkness, before returning to the safety of our room.
Canada road trip tip 23 – Avoid downtown Vancouver with kids and head for Granville Island markets and music
Road trip day 9: Granville Island
What to do in Vancouver? Granville Island
After the previous night’s escapade, we headed in the other direction down to the marina for a completely different experience, catching one of the bath tub ferries to Granville Island, with its buskers, arty shops, and farmers’ food market.
You can book all sorts of dolphin and whale watching boat trips. The whale boats promised to keep going until you saw a whale – up to 7 hours if needed, which put the boys off somewhat. We opted instead for a brewery tour and a couple of glasses of fizz in the sun, listening to the music before heading back (as a bonus, past the restaurant featured in the Canadian First Dates show on Earl St.) to the tragic land of trolleys and blankets.
Canada road trip day 10: Ferry to Nanaimo
It was time to say good bye to the Canada road trip section and Husband, who had a real job to go to, and for the remaining party of 3 to catch a ferry to Nanaimo. (I really should have given him the house keys at this point.)
The original plan had been to catch a bus to the ferry terminal, but I really did not fancy hanging out at a bus stop with the crystal crew – so splashed out on a taxi for about $35.
The 2 hour ferry journey is a bargain at $14 per adult. I’d booked in advance as it can get busy in the summer, but we would have been fine as walk on passengers. We hadn’t gone for the whale trip, but were hoping for a free show on this ride. I’d been told there is a decent chance of at least a dolphin, but no luck this time.
Canada road trip tip 24 – Look out for dolphin on the ferry to Vancouver Island.
Part 3 - Vancouver Island
Best things to see on Vancouver Island
Spent a lovely 3 weeks hanging with my sister in Parksville. The town is part retirement village, part tourist destination with a boho/back to nature twist to it. There is a cool weekly evening market at Craig Street in the summer which has a bit of a party atmosphere. There are also some comedy shopping experiences:
The town fronts a shallow, sheltered beach where you can walk for miles and still only be knee deep in water. The wave-free tide comes in as fast as you can run, Canadian geese really do fly over in V-formation and eagles pepper the huge fir trees which line the beach path.
Top tip 25 – Parksville .beach good for boating and v formation geese
Errington "Hi Neighbor" day
Tip 26 – Dress up, eat big pancakes and race courgettes at Errington “Hi Neigbor” day
This annual event is straight out of an episode of the Simpsons – Ned Flanders eat your heart out.
You literally get to be a good neighbour for the day, starting with a humungus pancake breakfast whipped up by the local fire brigade in the community hall, all proceeds to the local fire service. Firemen go for big dinners. A “small” involved 4 pancakes, several sausages and an entire plate of fruit – do not go large.
Weeks are spent designing and decorating courgette monster trucks for The Greater Errington Zucchini Race. There is a 2 page rule book with regulations relating to wheel and zucchini size. There is also a zucchini workshop at the weekly market before the big day, following which we had hot-tailed it down to the thrift store to load up with old roller skates, a glue gun and sequins. We shared out the best wheels which tactically was a blunder – using 1 decent wheel each in hindsight was not going to win us any trophies. Also, working out how to attach them to the vegetable so that they spin is a lot trickier than you’d think (parallel lines turned out to be quite important, and too many attempts at holes, a disaster on the courgette integrity front).
Prior to the race you get to place your zucchini on the display table and view the terrifyingly efficient looking competition (some children clearly had parents with tools and engineering knowledge way beyond our own). Even the dog zucchini looked more roadworthy that ours. Still, we managed to muscle in and pop ours in front of the local reporter’s camera anyway – we might not be going to win but at this point we still had all our feathers.
Inevitably, as our pride of courgettes shot down the near vertical 10 foot ramp their wheels fell off and they generally disintegrated back into vegetable form. At least dinner was sorted.
Seeking fame was also the order of the day in the next event – the parade, where a variety of non-themed costumes are available. We’d left it all a bit late and had to run a good half mile to the starting point in 30 degree heat and dressed variously as a bearded lady, Indian princess, batman, a duck and a hairy-faced troll. Having found the rest of the (quite small) parade, we blew bubbles and generally shamelessly paraded in front of the same local reporter. Excitingly, we did make it into the Errington News, so fame at a last (behind the various beards).
Also available – a farmer’s market, free corn on the cob, knitwear for trees, country music (of course) and ladies dressed in traditional costume.
Tip 27 – Get back to nature at Errington’s weekly farmers’ market
Errington pony trek with the bears
Bit of a treat for the gang (none of whom can ride), donning authentic Canadian riding boots and heading off in convoy into the sun dappled dusty woods at Tiger Lily Farm. Bit of a moment when the group leader revealed that the reason we had stopped for a while was that she had startled a berry munching bear on the path ahead and had to wait for it to move back into the woods (which presumably we would then have ridden RIGHT PAST) before proceeding. Gutted not to see it or be aware of any of the bear’s presence until after the event- but problies best in terms of containing children’s trauma whilst still on horse back. With a bear loose in the woods.
Tip 28 – Ride like a real Canadian in authentic boots at Tiger Lily Farm
My husband once told a rubbish story about a big fish. When asked “How big?” he replied “Really big”, and this description is in danger of falling into the same trap. But the trees really are big enough to swallow a small boy. You can stroll round an easy forest walk for about half an hour and feel like a pixie lost in the Jurassic era. How many children does it take to encircle Giant Redwood? More than the 4 we had available.
Tip 29 – Climb inside a giant tree at Cathedral Grove
The Nose (Top Bridge Park)
At Top Bridge Pare lies a stretch of clear green watered river, where it is just deep enough to ride on a rubber ring in the rushing shallows (there will be stone/bum scraping for larger participants). Alternatively, you can drift at a more leisurely pace in the gentle deeper water, under “The Nose”, a pointy rock jutting out about 25 feet above the water, which a string of braver local teenagers launch themselves off regularly throughout the afternoons. For the smaller, more safety conscious child, there is a mini jumping rock just down the river. There are also snakes.
Tip 30 – Try river tubing and jumping at Top Bridge Park
North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre
This kooky wildlife sanctuary costs $15 adults, £6 for kids. The grounds have a bit of a hippy farm feel with rough hewn wooden sculptures and faces floating in the ground. By contrast, the bears are caged and fed white rolls (surely not their natural prey). One display cage housed a “rock dove” which was clearly a pigeon. Perhaps in far flung places, our humdrum become the exotic.
Many things can be bought here, Canadian trinkets, tie-dye clothes, 10 foot marble statues but the best bit is not the shop selling all-the-ice cream–flavours-in-the-world (although this is also amazing), it is the shop with the goats grazing on the roof. We had to buy the t-shirt.
Tip 31 – Check out the goats on the roof at Coombs Market
At this annual festival you get to be a human football, participate in it’s a knock out style padded pugilistic fights, roar at wrestlers and spin completely upside down, all to a country rock soundtrack. An all-round winner with the kids.
Cameron Lake is a pretty much idyllic crystal clear swimming lake edged with a small stony beach and twisty rooted trees. If you are lucky enough to find someone with a paddle board or inflatable food item (pizza/cup cake or bourbon biscuit) you are pretty much sorted for the day/week/life.
Tip 32 – Be amazed by the crystal waters of Cameron Lake
Despite availability of all the above mentioned inflatable toys, the kids became bored and decided to make and sell “pretty cloths” to a pretty captive audience of about 10 other lake-siders who had little choice but to shell out about $10 in “voluntary“ contributions.
Where else do you have the opportunity to handle starfish and urchins in a research laboratory and then go and spot the same creatures hanging off the marina outside (child and sea varieties), whilst looking out for whales busy upturning local fishing boats.
Pipers Lagoon and Miracle Bay
And last but not least we ran along giant driftwood in the rain at these wild and deserted East Coast Island beaches.
The fabulous Canadian sun had set on our 3 weeks of sisterly love it was time to return to the real world and for our teary seaplane treat.
I had thought that there was a shuttle to the international airport on arrival in Vancouver itself– but this is only if you book the plane to Vancouver airport. Not the one I’d booked to the harbour, apparently.
Bit of a moment on arrival, with emotional children and a flight to England leaving in a couple of hours, to have to navigate our way carrying 6 weeks’ worth of luggage for 3 (2 of whom unable to lift their own bags) from the seaplane docking area to the airport many, many miles away. After pacing up and down the marina manically, someone told me there was a bus I could catch from a nearby multi-storey car park to down town Vancouver. I waited, not very patiently, at the dark concrete-y entrance as plane departure time tick tocked ever closer.
Alighting from the bus, we shot across 3 lanes of traffic with 6 bags, to a train station, only to be faced with a machine displaying an array of ticket choices but with no clue as to where I was or where I was supposed to be going. I blindly relied on the advice of the lady behind me in the queue.
Flights of train station stairs negotiated, thumping bags down one step at a time, we managed to board a train to what I hoped was the right airport. On disembarking, the exit barriers said no to our tickets, requiring us to tailgate (in the manner of 3 incompetent massive-bag-toting-spies) some correct-fare paying strangers to get out.
To complete the hat trick or incompetence, I had decided to pack some souvenir forks in my hand luggage, which these days is not a great idea. To the general dismay of the whole party, I had to go and check another bag at 11th hour and rejoin the massive security queue. Tick tock. Gin was required on the 15 hour plane journey home.
Tip 33 – There are 2 seaplane landing spots. Pick the right one (I didn’t)
Canada road trip - Lessons Learned
- Take the route 1A on your Canada road trip (with all the animals) from Banff to Lake Louise
- Think about bears and tents and hot food and outdoor toilets
- Do pack a bear bell and stay with the crowds (but don’t pack forks in hand luggage)
- Check where the sea plane lands
- Avoid downtown Vancouver zombie apocalypse
- Listen to the local radio if there is even a chance of fire stopping play
Choose bears, wolves, apocalyptic wildfire scenery, glaciers, pink poncho waterfall drenching, giant trees and purple starfish – choose Canada.
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Anecdotal evidence. Adventures with my family – mishaps, surprises, stories and lessons learned. A travel/humour hybrid.