Saturday Sept 7, 2013

If you tried to design a place that would be the most spectacular, most awe-inspiring and most scenically-overwhelming in the world, it would probably look a lot like Banff and its surrounding wonderland. Everywhere you look there are teetering mountains, fast-flowing rivers, tumbling glaciers, turquoise lakes, etc, etc …”

Several travel guide-books I read said things like this (or words to that effect). And I remember thinking, “I’ll believe it when I see it!”

Well, we’ve just spent two marvellous days SEEING it – and I’ve gotta tell you: you can BELIEVE it!

Yesterday, after a scenic drive from Calgary to Banff on the Trans-Canada Highway, our fun-loving driver/guide, Andy, treated us Kiwis to the local highlights of this charming resort town (and World Heritage Site) – like Bow Falls, the Hoodoo Lookout, Lake Minnewanka, Surprise Corner and more – plus we rode the Banff Gondola for a panoramic 360º view of the area.

Impressed? Were we EVER! And a scrummy salmon-feast at The Keg in our hotel, Banff Caribou Lodge & Spa, capped it off nicely.

But, we hadn’t seen the HALF …

This morning, Andy drove us up into the mountains where, throughout the day, we eyeballed a string of breathtaking watery jewels, like Lake Moraine, Lake Louise, Lake Peyto, Lake Helen and Lake Bow – all with stunning backdrops of teetering peaks, glacial ice, turquoise rivers and cascading waterfalls. We even spotted some local wildlife: a small black bear (crossing the road behind our coach), a big prickly porcupine (scurrying into the undergrowth), some cute ground squirrels, and a couple of cool birds (a teal-blue magpie, plus a black’n’white nutcracker feasting on nearby pines trees).

(Andy watched a sizeable grizzly bear amble across the bus-park while we were down at one of the lakes – but that doesn’t count. We Mad Midlifers won’t rest easy until we’ve all seen a big bad grizzly for ourselves!)

Around midday we motored for a further 90 minutes, higher and higher into the Canadian Rockies, on one of the most spectacular mountain highways in North America. Some chilly adventuring awaited us at the Columbia Icefield (one of the largest accumulations of ice south of the Arctic, spread over 325 square kilometres) where we boarded a specially-designed Ice Explorer for a guided tour onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier – a true Ice Age experience!

We were still oohing-&-aahing-&-wasn’t-it-marvellousing when we finally arrived back at Banff (weary but undeterred) for a hearty steak-dinner and some shut-eye.

PEOPLE NEWS: The opportunity for a second little Yellow Rubber Ducky arose late this afternoon on the glacier:

  • The ‘Frostbite Award’ was won easily by Pamela – who, stripping off her shoes and socks (nothing else, thank goodness!!), stepped out barefoot on the ice and paddled briefly in a small stream of freezing-cold melt-water from the glacier that loomed huge in the distance. Pamela has since thawed out – and, amazingly, still has all of her toes.

TOMORROW: We’ll be taking our seats on the luxury Rocky Mountaineer Train for one of the most famous, most scenic, rail-journeys in the world. So don’t go away – you might miss something!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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