Left 11th May
Sunday 11 May
We all checked in at Brisbane International Airport with plenty of time to spare. The walk through security and immigration was smooth and the quickest we had ever done. With a small group of eight we were all able to get to know each others name very easily. Coffee over an initial chat passed the time and we were soon on board our A330-300 Korean Air flight, with the plane moving away from its docking area 10 minutes early. After a long run around the airport we we able to take off at the scheduled departure time. Plenty of leg room, bottled water, blanket and earphones helped make us comfortable with 9 hours flying ahead of us. A meal arrived around 10 and we had a choice of chicken or beef, with a shrimp salad and fruit dessert. Must have been good because most of us cleaned the tray. Snacks on the way, plenty of films to watch or games to play, passed the time quite quickly. Still not sure if that was breakfast or lunch! We had a second meal about 5 hours later which kept us going until we reached Seoul. After an hour or so we moved through the long passageways and immigration, picked up our bags and on to the transfer to the Hyatt Hotel - owned by Korean Air. Spacious rooms, all meals included and great service from the staff. Casual dinner in our own room which was very pleasant. Thus to bed.
IMonday 12 May
An early rise with an excellent breakfast in the hotel.
We booked in for a 5 hour transit tour from the airport into Seoul. A one hour drive into the city on a very dull morning but as we entered the city of 10 million people the sun started peeping through and the remainder of the morning was very pleasant. It was interesting to see the variety of apartment buildings and so many familiar shops as we entered the city centre. We visited one of the old royal palaces which is now the national folklore museum and explored most of the buildings, with great scenic backgrounds for photos if you took the time to look. A couple of us were fortunate to catch a part of the changing of the guard ceremony, which was extremely colourful. Visited a Buddhist temple and one of the local markets before returning to the hotel for lunch, which we really enjoyed. Rest time for a few hours before making our way to the airport for our flight to Vancouver.
Tuesday 13 May
Vancouver. A day free to wander so some of us took a hop on hop off trolley bus which started right outside the hotel. This covered the whole city quite thoroughly taking two and half labours to complete the route. Being able to get on off as we wished was great. We dropped off at Gastown, which was the original settlement area of Vancouver, at the Rose Garden in Stanley Park and at Granvile Island which is one of the largest market areas in Canada. We had a beautiful day and walked for miles through Stanley Park and visited several places of interest including the Vancouver Lookout with wonderful views across the city in all directions, including the snow covered mountains just beyond the city.
After dinner we went back to the lookout for a wonderful sunset.
A great day.
Plenty of photos as per usual
Wednesday 14 May
A day trip to Vancouver island started with a pick up from our hotel at 8.30. Picked up others then off to the ferry, Spirit of Vancouver. One of the 46 BC Ferries, this one is one of two sister ships which are the largest in the fleet and can carry 540 vehicles and 2000 passengers. The 95 minute service departs every hour through until 9.00 pm. We enjoyed an early lunch and excellent sailing through the islands between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Our fist port of call was The Butchart Gardens, privately run world famous gardens which have over one million plants. With 400 staff and 70 full time gardeners the gardens are a year round picture of colour and variety. All of us enjoyed the opportunity to experience these magnificent gardens.
On to Victoria the capital of British Columbia where we had the opportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather. Arrived back at 9.30pm after a long but enjoyable day.
Thursday 15 May
Another great day. Picked up at the hotel at 10 am and then off to the North side of Vancouver where we first visited the Capilano salmon hatchery. Saw thousands of young salmon in various stages of development and just a few which had run the gauntlet of the river to return to spawn. The Capilano river is running fast and we were fortunate to see some canoeists white water rafting in the area where we had stopped.
Next stop, just down the road was the Capilano suspension bridge, over 100 meters above the river and swaying a bit, but we all managed to cross thee river and explore some of the magnificent scenery on both sides of the river.
Grouse mountain was our finals stop for the days and the gondola ride was spectacular. Quite a lot of snow around at the top of the mountain which is over 1000 meters high. Biggest surprise was being able to see a couple of Grizzly bears and they proved to be e real highlight of the day.
A drive through the wealthy suburbs of Vancouver showed us how the rich, maybe not famous, live in this part of the world before we returned to the hotel after a very enjoyable day.
Friday 16 May
An early start with a pick up at the hotel supposedly at 6.30, but away by 6.50. After collecting a few others at other hotels we moved on to the station and straight on the train. With 24 carriages and 500 people on board we travelled slowly through the Fraser Valley which is now the breadbasket for British Colombia. Historically the valley had the greatest migration of gold miners and support people, about 30,000, who moved into the area around a place called Yale, where gold was found in large quantities, not by mining but by panning. Now the "Town" has a population of just 150.
The beautiful scenery just went on and on, though often hidden by trees alongside the track. We followed the Fraser River all morning and well into the afternoon.
But we had several delays during the day with problems caused by the freight traffic on the route, which has priority over passenger trains. This resulted in a delay of three and a half hours which meant we detrained at Spence's Bridge and took a two and a half hour coach ride to our hotel at the ski resort of Sun Peaks, about an hour out of Kamloops. With the delays Rocky Mountaineer provided us with additional refreshments which was sufficient for our needs for the day.
A very relaxing day, with good food and an excellent cabin steward who kept us amused with his varied information.
Saturday 17 May
An early morning start. Up at 4.30. What a shock to the system. Down to the hotel foyer for coffee and snacks before boarding the coach to leave by 5.30 for our one hour trip down the mountain to the train.
What a fantastic surprise when we were driven to our carriage. There before us was a double decker Gold Leaf carriage, which we were privileged to have for our group for the remainder of our trip to Banff. Being high up gave us a better view of the countryside and has been a great experience and an opportunity to see the difference between the classes of travel available.
Our host on the train, Lars, has kept us involved in the journey with interesting stories relating to the history of the region and the development of the railway system. The train slowed at strategic points to provide the opportunity for photographs. Still quite a lot of snow in the area a we crossed the highest point at Rogers Pass, just 4500 feet.
During the day we saw a number of white tailed deer as we travelled down the mountain and from the train several black bear, dear, elk and a mountain goat.
Several times we were held up by the large amount of freight traffic so arrived in Banff around 8.30 in the evening, coached to our hotel and had a late light meal. Took a walk around Banff before a welcome bed.
Sunday 18 May
Banff pick up at 10am and a drive towards Calgary on the Trans Canada Highway until we reached the Kananaskis helicopter centre where we were all treated to a helicopter ride into the mountains nearby. Unfortunately the clouds were gradually getting lower and we couldn't get high into the mountains. It was still a great experience and some excellent photos eventuate.
Back to Banff for lunch and then off on a tour around the area, in light rain, finishing with the Banff Gondola. Most of us took the 8 minute ride to the top, at 7400 feet,into some cooler weather with a touch of snow as well. Thick cloud covered the mountain so not much to see. Back to the coach and a slow drive downhill - as this is a long weekend everyone seemed to have driven to the Gondola area so we had to crawl back to town.
In spite of the weather and the terrible traffic we had an enjoyable day.
Monday 19 May
A great day with good weather, though rather cool. We left Banff just after nine with 16 on the coach - a great number as we could get off and on quickly and move on to the many places of interest. We travelled on the Trans Canada Highway towards Lake Louise but turned off onto a country road with great scenery. The driver hoped to show us some of the wildlife of the area and was successful as we saw White Tailed Deer along the road. Back on the highway suddenly we stopped. Two Grizzley Bears along the side of the rail track which runs beside the highway. We watched them for about ten minutes before a train came along and moved them away.
Construction of the railway across the Rockies was a major feat of engineering and to enable the trains to move safely thought the steepest part the engineers built spiral tunnels which enable the trains to move to a higher elevation at the necessary gradients. We were fortunate to see a train travel through the tunnels, with one long train entering and leaving the tunnels at the same time at the various levels.
Moving on to Emerald Lake. A picture perfect location. Still with plenty of ice on the lake we were not able to really appreciate the Emerald colour, but we were still able to get some good photos. Then on to Lake Louise where we ended up at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Great hotel in such a picturesque location. After getting our rooms and a light lunch we walked the length of the lake, with all of us taking so many photos. Ended with a great dinner with lots of laughs.
Ready form a good night before our trip to Jasper tomorrow.
Tuesday 20 May
A bright cheerful morning at the Chateau with the sun helping create a wonderful atmosphere with the snow on the mountains and the fluffy white clouds.
Boarded the coach for Jasper, with the same driver as yesterday so were anticipating some interesting stops as we traveled North along the Highway. Scenery was really good though in some places the clouds were just too low over the mountain tops. All the lakes are still frozen over, maybe with a little clear water along the edges. So picturesque.
At midday we arrived at the Athabaskan Glacier where we had lunch and then a trip on an Ice Explorer, out onto the glacier itself......cold, with the wind making it feel even colder.
A few more stops in the afternoon, again with so many photo opportunities. Arrived in Jasper ready for a meal, a walk and a good nights rest, as an early morning required for the next train journey - they all start early. Another great day.
Wednesday 21 May
We were picked up at the hotel by 6.30 with a short drive to the Jasper station. As we were early we took the opportunity to have a group photograph with the Rocky Mountaineer train in the background. Departed on time at 7.05.
This was bear country and we were fortunate to see several bears alongside the track, together with deer, elk, mountain goats and even a wolf. Scenery changed constantly, as did the weather. Mt Robson, the highest mountain in Canada at over 12,000 feet, was visible quite clearly today, which apparently is unusual.
We arrived in Quesnel early, which gave us an opportunity to spend a little time in the town, which is one of the oldest in British Colombia. Now one of the largest saw milling centres in the world it exports over five billion dollars of timber worldwide, the majority going to Asia, with China the main destination.
The train journey today was relaxing with an opportunity to spend time getting to know each other a little better. Spent a lot of time watching our for wildlife and looking for scenery to photograph. Time went very quickly in spite of being on the train for ten hours.
Hotel very good with an excellent restaurant next door. Another early morning Thursday.
Thursday 22 May
A relaxing day on the Rocky Mountaineer.
Picked up for a 7.10 am departure from Quesnel. Our trip today covered 500km through magnificent wilderness country. A tremendous variety of scenery, which often changed from thick forests to lakes and open farmland over quite short periods. This afternoon we travelled though steep canyons with the Fraser River, the longest in Canada, roaring through, carrying so much water and the occasional log. We crossed a variety of bridges and alongside lakes which were only accessible by boat.
Our ardent wildlife spotters saw deer, elk, coyote, mountain goats, eagles, osprey and many Canada Geese. Along the waterways there were several beaver dams of varying sizes. Apparently they assist in keeping the waterways clear of debris.
Arriving at Whistler we transferred to our hotel which is quite luxurious, our base for two nights. With a lounge room, kitchenette and a washing machine!!!
Too Late got to be quick with these photos
Friday 23 May
Woke up to pouring rain so everyone took their time and ended up at the same restaurant for breakfast. With a washing machine available in our apartments we were able to catch up on the washing, which should hold us until we get home.
At midday we were picked up and taken to the local cultural centre for an excellent lunch followed by a tour of the centre, which gave us a good insight into the development of the local Indian culture and their involvement in the changes taking place in the province.
The afternoon cleared nicely and we were able to wander the village and see some of the interesting buildings of the area. A late Spring up here in the mountains meant that the tulips are in full bloom and everything is flourishing.
A lazy day but very pleasant and needed by all.
Saturday 24 May
Whistler. Our morning was free so we had a good look around the Whistler Village area. We were amazed at the number of mountain bikers in the area. Now that the snow has gone from the lower slopes the area has been taken over by the bikers. They start off clean but soon look like muddy figures, almost unrecognisable. They obviously enjoy this new opportunity to explore the mountains.
Mid afternoon we were picked up and transferred to the Whistler station for our Rocky Mountaineer trip to Vancouver. Another interesting ride through magnificent scenery, especially through some of the gorges with rapidly flowing rivers pouring tons of water towards the sea. The snow melt will continue for another month at least. Had a meal on the train which meant that we could relax in out hotel when we arrived, late, into Vancouver.
Sunday 25 May
Rather a wet day in Vancouver. Visited the local Baptist church, which we really enjoyed, with organ, choir and an excellent sermon. Really encouraged for the rest of the day. Walked all afternoon, through town to Stanly Park and along the coastline to the cruise terminal and back to the hotel. We needed the exercise after so much train travel. After dinner we met up with another of the Integrity Travel groups who had just arrived in Vancouver and will be visiting a lot of the places we have been to in Canada, finishing off with a cruise and a few days in Las Vegas.
Monday 26 May
We start our cruise along the famous Inside Passage and on to Alaska. At sea for the first day so will not be much at all to report. Hopefully some interesting news once we start visiting the Alaskan towns we visit.
Tuesday 3 June
A pleasant but cool morning. We had 24 hours of daylight. Sun was still shining on the mountains at 11 pm and it just did not get dark. After breakfast most of us were picked up by our coach for the day tour into Denali National Park. Scenery again really good and we sighted quite a bit of wildlife. Several stops enabled us to stretch our legs and get more photos of the snow clad scenes. It is interesting how snow and photographs go together.
I visited the local visitors centre which highlighted the development of the whole area and showed the variety of animals that are to be found in the Park, if you are around at the right time. In the evening we wandered into the village and looked at the shops, mostly souvenir and earring. One had a display of magnificent photographs taken by one of the locals - not that anyone is local all year as the village closes up for six months, even thought the Park stays open year round - for the adventurous who can travel without motorised vehicles. Finished the day with a game of cards !!!!
Wednesday 4 June
Up reasonable early as most of us visited the local National Park Ranger centre to see how they maintain the Park during the winter. With temperatures down to 40F below it is impractical to function with motorised vehicles so dog sleds are used. We visited the kennels where about 30 dogs are kept and trained. What marvellous animals they are. We were able to move through he kennels area and play with the dogs. One of the rangers gave us lots of information and then we saw some of the dogs in a film, and what a noise as they became so excited at the possibility of being involved. During the winter they travel about 3.000 miles pulling the work sleds monitoring activity in the Park. Rangers often go out for a month at a time and have supply huts out in the park where they stop overnight. These are supplied during the summer to ensure that sufficient food for the dogs, and Rangers, is available while they are out in the country. The huts are small but adequate and provide the shelter required in the low temperatures.
Then, back to the hotel to catch the transfer to the railway station for our trip on the Wilderness Express which took us South most of the way to Anchorage. Travelled quite slowly so very good for photos once again. We were in a dome car and as It was a beautiful clear day we had great views of Mt McKinley, the highest mountain in North America. This was in view for over an hour and everyone was excited about being able to see it for so long as it is generally only in full view for very short periods and not very often. Finished our journey by coach arriving at our suite hotel in Anchorage about 7 pm. Wandered off for dinner to an interesting restaurant nowhere the food was excellent. Back for an early night.
A good lazy week. We all enjoyed the opportunity to just unpack the once, relax, eat when and where we wanted and observe the scenery as we cruised North. Passed between many islands, all heavily wooded and on the higher areas there were still patches of snow.
We stopped at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway on our way to Whittier in Alaska.
Ketchikan, with its wooden footpaths and some roads, streets made of narrow wooden walkways, and an interesting variety of tourist shops was our first port of call, with beautiful weather which is patently unusual.. Even had a brilliant sunset.
Juneau, the capital city of Alaska with a population of 32,000 was not as interesting, but with a gondola which rose for an excellent outlook over the city and valley, and a glacier just out of the city, had many of the passengers taking tours. Juneau, even though not easily accessible, is the Home for the State Capital of Alaska.
Skagway proved to be the most interesting town with its wooden boardwalks throughout and many stores dating back to the 1800's. With a summer population of only 750 and 400 in winter, Skagway is definitely a tourist town. With the variety of scenery throughout the area many float planes were available and the were moving in and out on a regular schedules
The Whitehorse Railway proved to be very popular with many of the passengers, rising 3000 feet in less than 20 miles, which is an amazing feat of engineering considering the steep terrain and the harsh weather conditions. As we had already been on the train Carol and I took a coach ride into the Yukon, which parallel the train route anyway. As we rose higher it became colder and we wrapped up to get off and take photos. We enjoyed the magnificent scenery.
The highlights of the cruise after leaving Skagway were a couple of extended stops at Glaciers. Cloud was quite low at each Glacier so they were not as clear as they might have been if it had been clear. They were very impressive and many loud carvings took place while we were watching. A calving is a breakaway of ice from the front of the Glacier.
Everyone was on deck to see the Glaciers and so many photographs would have been taken. They were exciting opportunities to see some rare spectacles.
As usual everyone was looking for wildlife. A number of whales were spotted at various points on the cruise and pods of dolphins were seen off the bows. In various places there were mountain goats clinging to the steep slopes. The occasional seal was seen close to the ship and jumping onto the ice flows when we were near to the glaciers.
Monday 2 June
The cruise finished in Whittier in Southern Alaska. When we arrived in Whittier we were picked up by coach to travel to Anchorage. It was cold and cloudy with good patches of blue sky which helped make some interesting photos. On leaving we had to pass through a two and a half mile tunnel which is quite narrow and services trains as well as one way vehicle traffic. Each vehicle has a scheduled departure time so you have to line up ready to go, just like going on a vehicle ferry. Our departure was for nine o'clock and we then made our way to a wildlife eco centre where we had close up encounters with some wildlife, especially Elk. Also saw grizzly bears, moose, musk ox, reindeer, bison and a porcupine.
Then on to Anchorage for lunch. A city of 310,00 which is spread out over a large area as there are very few high rise apartments. Not a great deal to interest us though at long last we were able to access the internet in one of the shopping centres. After lunch we travelled North through heavily treed undulating countryside, making our way to Denali National Park. Lots of small communities on the highway, many providing support to the tourist industry which is so important for Alaska. As we moved further North the scenery became more spectacular with snow clad mountains and the occasional sighting of various animals. Arriving in Denali National Park we were located for a couple of nights in a very nice hotel just on the edge of town.