This could be the trip of a lifetime for adventure-loving families: Charlotte and her family explored beautiful Vancouver Island on horse, boat and foot before travelling over the Rockies to Banff. Canada is a wildlife paradise – and did we mention the bears…?
- City and wilderness
- Riding, hiking and fishing
- Seaplanes and mountain trains
Who: Charlotte, Jonathan, Francesca 12 and Edward 9
When: July 2012
Where: western Canada – Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Banff and Calgary
Where did you go and how did you get there? Charlotte: “We flew to Vancouver from London Heathrow and stayed there for three or four days then took a seaplane to Vancouver Island to stay at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort. After that we went back to Vancouver to catch the Rockie Mountaineer train across the Rockies to Banff. We spent a few days in Banff then travelled on to Calgary and from there flew back to London. The whole trip took just under three weeks in all and was masterminded by Scott Dunn Travel who were fantastic.
Three days in Vancouver
What a city! Vancouver is a really gorgeous place – I could happily move there! We explored the waterfront where there are lots of bars and restaurants and went to a bohemian little market area with crafts and stalls. There are great museums too and windsurfing and water skiing on the lake. And it’s so pretty! You can see the mountains from the city – they’re only an hour or two away.
We felt pretty jet-lagged the first night so we just went out to dinner and tried to stay up until bedtime. The children recovered incredibly quickly but it took Jonathan and me a couple of days longer.
As well as visiting the market and some of the museums, we hopped around on the ferries and walked quite a lot. The weather was warm – like a good English summer. Everyone is incredibly friendly and quick to recommend places to go and see. We didn’t feel we’d done it all even after three or four days.
Where did you stay? We stayed in an apart-hotel which worked well for us. It was our own little apartment with two bedrooms and bathrooms so when we arrived jet-lagged we could stay in the room and relax. Breakfast was included and then we ate out the rest of the time. I quite like smart hotels but so often they are full of conferences and weddings and it doesn’t feel like a family friendly place to be. Here we were very central in downtown Vancouver, we had a fantastic view, there was a pool on the rooftop but we felt independent too.
A week in Vancouver Island
There’s a little terminal on the river next to the airport where you can see the seaplanes taking off – very exciting.
We took a seaplane to Vancouver Island for the next stage of our trip. The only way in or out of the resort is by seaplane or boat and you really do feel like you’re going to a completely new place that no one has been to before. The scenery is breathtaking and landing on the water is an amazing experience.
Vancouver Island really is just miles and miles of nothing. But it is inhabited by bears – which is quite something! We were staying at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort which combines luxury with real back to nature stuff. We were met from the plane by a horse-drawn tractor and taken to the camp where we were greeted by a pack of 20 dogs. They are there to keep the bears away – bears do come into the resort from time to time but as soon as the dogs hear them all hell breaks loose and they chase them out of camp.
First of all we were taken to the bar area and given the rules. And the rules are all about bear safety! Everyone had to hand over any snacks from their bags – no food can be taken into the tents because the bears will smell it.
Accommodation is in posh tents arranged in a series of lanes all around the resort, with wooden stilted walkways that are lit at night with candles. Because it gets quite cold at night there are beautiful log burning stoves inside the tents. We took one of the larger tents, with campbeds for the children, otherwise they would have been on their own and what with bears and spiders I think they would have got spooked and we would have got spooked too! Having said that there were some older children at the resort who had their own tents. The dogs are out and about all night and next to your bed is a flare that you can let off if you think you’ve heard a bear. Our guide told us that help would come quickly and that he had a simple test to tell if a bear’s about. If he can do three laps round the tent without getting bear poop on his feet then he’ll know it’s a false alarm. According to him the flares are so noisy that any inquisitive bear will poo in fright!
We did see a bear come into camp one morning – the children were excited but the dogs are very good at their job and quickly chased it away.
What was the food like? The food was fantastic and quite fancy. They had a wonderful chef and a sommelier who matched your wine to the food – which is not something you expect when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Our children will try anything but there was plenty of pasta and burgers and children’s food too if they’d wanted that instead. It’s all inclusive so we’d didn’t have to worry about paying for anything while we were there.
What did you do at Clayoquot? It’s a completely one-off place, like a safari experience. You get up early in the morning and there’s a menu of activities to chose from – you can book two or three different outings each day.
We went out on treks on foot and mountain bikes and horses. There’s a waterfall to visit and beautiful beaches. Jonathan and Ed went deep sea fishing and caught an enormous salmon which was later smoked and sent home to England for us – it lasted for ages! And they caught a smaller cod which we had for lunch the next day.
I tried fly fishing for the first time and caught a beautiful trout on my first cast – the ghillie couldn’t believe it. But then we threw it back in and I proceeded to catch nothing else for the next two hours.
We also went out in the speedboats on the freezing sea looking for whales but that made us all feel incredibly sick – you’re fine while you’re whizzing along but then you stop and that’s when you feel worst! There was a climbing wall, archery, a huge zip wire, kayaks – the children tried everything. They even went out wake-boarding one morning – although the water was icy – and they ended up having lots of fun being dragged round on a doughnut ring.
Everything you do is supervised by a guide – and a dog. When the activities begin in the morning the dogs disperse along with the visitors, they join up with the walkers and the riders or hop into the boats. My favourite was a black Labrador called Rango who came on a couple of long treks with us.
It was a fantastic family holiday – we just didn’t stop, we were very busy. You feel as if you’ve filled every day to the max and then flop into bed exhausted in the evening. Our days were action packed but there were more sedentary things to do too like watercolour painting lessons and yoga. One day I just thought ‘enough’ and went off to the little spa area where there’s a hot tub and had the best massage of my life.
We stayed six nights because we didn’t want to spend the holiday travelling all the time, but a lot of people stay for two or three nights and then move on.
What was the most memorable moment for you all? We got incredibly close to bears! The most jaw-dropping and eye-popping moment for all of us was going out on the inflatables to see the mummy and baby bears hunting for crabs at the water’s edge at low tide. The guide took the boat in so close that we could see the saliva in their jaws as they crunched on the crabs. Ed was sitting in front of me in the boat with the camera and at one point we were so close that he stopped taking photos and I found myself whispering ‘Don’t make eye contact’…
For Francesca is was probably the horses. If you love horses then it is an amazing place to ride. It was so much fun that she’s lost interest a bit since we’ve been back in London because riding here is so tame in comparison. She was appalled when we all came out with her one day and just wanted to plod along while she was galloping through rivers!
I think Edward will always remember catching the salmon – the sea was so choppy that he’d just been seasick – and then he got the first tug! It took all three of them, the guide, Jonathan and Ed, to get it in.
All in all it is a very, very special place – we’d love to go again.
Taking the Rockie Mountaineer to Banff
After Vancouver Island we took the sea-plane back to Vancouver and spent another night at our apart-hotel where our luggage had been stored. The next day we went to the station and caught the Rockie Mountaineer train which crosses the Rockies to Banff – eventually. We travelled all day, got off to spend the night in a hotel, then got back on again. The scenery is amazing and you can see wildlife – including bears– just by looking out of the windows. The children had just spent a week being very active so they were ok for the day, reading books on their Kindles and watching the scenery go by. It probably wasn’t their favourite bit of the holiday but it got us from A to B without having to drive or take another flight. It was the touristy-est bit of the whole thing and there were a lot of tourist parties on the train. Ed was the youngest child on the journey so to his enormous embarrassment he was picked out to sound the horn to start the train and given a cuddly bear as a souvenir. I don’t think they get many children on that train because of having to sit still for two days!
What did you do in Banff? There aren’t many places to stay in Banff. We had a huge great hotel which felt rather disappointing after the other places we’d stayed. It looked really impressive but there were just too many people and we couldn’t get a seat at breakfast. If we went again I’d try to find a place that’s smaller.
Banff is a sweet little Rockies town in a national park, full of lovely tea shops with lots of fantastic walks and lakes and wildlife. We hired a car there to get around and did some quite serious walking. We visited a glacier, the Columbia Icefield, where you’re taken right out onto the ice in an enormous vehicle. Its fascinating to hear how the glacier is formed and see all the colours in it.
Where did you walk? One day we did a really big walk at Lake Louise aiming for a café at the top of the trail – though I must say I was wondering what we would do if the café was closed when we finally got there. Luckily it wasn’t! There are bears in the national park which is a slight consideration – you can buy bells to jangle as you walk as apparently if you make noise you are generally all right. It seems strangely unsafe to London eyes but we were on a well trodden path and there were a lot of other walkers about. The Lake is absolutely beautiful, it’s a greeny-silvery colour – every picture we took looked like a travel photo.
After all the walking we had some great meals: beautiful fresh fish and huge steaks. In fact we didn’t eat a bad meal the whole time we were in Canada. Its not particularly cheap though, the prices are probably the same as you’d find in London.
We spent a night in Calgary before our flight home. Its full of horsy shops because of the Stampede so Francesca was very happy wandering around there.
What are your top packing tips for this kind of trip? Kindles are fantastic – I’ve never been on holiday without a Kindle since we got them and the children got through lots of books on theirs. We also took walking shoes because we knew that we would want to do a lot of walking and trekking. We packed shorts and tees mainly, walking boots, one or two smart things and smaller bags to use on the seaplane where we were only allowed limited luggage. At Clayoquot all the specialist kit for riding, fishing and going out on the boats was provided so we didn’t need to take anything extra.”
Family Holiday in Canada
Charlotte and family’s trip was arranged by Scott Dunn.
www.scottdunn.com Tel:020 3582 3514
All photos by Charlotte and family, all rights reserved. Photos may not be reproduced without prior written consent.