Boston | USA

Destination

Boston, USA.

Date of Travel

September, 2017.

Banff & Jasper | Canada

Destination

Canadian Rockies – Canada (Calgary to Banff National Park to Jasper National Park)

Date of Travel

14th – 20th September 2017

Accommodation

Stoneridge Mountain Resort – Canmore
Overlander Mountain Lodge – Jasper
Truffle Pigs Bistro & Lodge – Field
Bear Hill Lodge – Jasper
Calgary Airport Marriott – Calgary

Driving between Banff & Jasper National Parks

This was the main purpose of our trip to drive between Banff National Park to Jasper National Park via Highway 93 – often described as the most scenic drive in the world.
We used the less touristy Canmore as a base (about 1.5-hour drive from Calgary Intl. Airport) and used our hire car to drive 300km or so between Canmore and Jasper.
On the trip north, we stopped at a few different places for the night and numerous lake and hike spots. All of which can be found on the Google map below.
There are so many beautiful spots to stop off, stretch your legs, hike or just get out a take a picture and whilst most are centred around some sort of Lake, each area is different from the last.
On the reverse journey back to Calgary, we stopped only to get some fresh air so tackled most of the 6-7 hours or so in one hit.Distance wise it’s not actually that far between the two Parks, but whilst the roads are very well maintained, its only a single track road with a ~50mph speed limit which slows the drive (plus the numerous RV’s making the same trip!).
There are also numerous toilets en route too so you need not worry on that front – although they are the usual ‘hole in the ground’ so not the most pleasant but better than nothing! There are also ‘Bear Bins’ at these stops. Remember – ‘a fed Bear is a dead Bear’!


My Favourite Lakes

All of the Lakes in the Rockies are amazing – but here are my top few that we visited.

Emerald Lake

Located off of Highway 93 in Yoho National Park but definitely worth a visit. Popular with tourists, but the Lake is expansive enough to not feel overwhelmingly busy. Visited on a sunny day and can see why its called Emerald Lake.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Horseshoe Lake

Located in Jasper National Park, you drive past Horseshoe on the way to/from Jasper. You park right off of Highway 93 and hike for about 10/15 mins down to the Lake itself which is hidden away. When I visited about 10am, there was not a single person around which may have been the reason I liked it so much. Incredibly peaceful and calm.

Horseshoe Lake, Jasper National Park

Medicine Lake

Also located in Jasper National Park, and about 30 minutes drive from Jasper itself, Medicine Lake is an incredibly serene place. The lake itself is quite shallow, and the surrounding vegetation is still in re-growth mode following on from a severe forest fire in 2015 but its still a beautiful place to visit. Its also on the way to the more popular Maligne Lake but for me, Medicine Lake was the nicer place of the two.

Medicine Lake, Jasper National Park

Lake Louise

Probably the most famous and most photographed Lake in Canada. Lake Louise offers amazing postcard-like views but it was easily the busiest of all the places I visited in Canada for that reason which drops it down the list of my top places. Definitely worth a visit, but visiting at a peak time during the time and on a good weather day would bring an unwelcome swarm of crowds.

Lake Louise, Banff National Park


Big Sur (2016) | USA

Destination

Monterey / Big Sur California, USA

Date of Travel

April, 2016.

Whilst Monterey was a nice place, its primary purpose was to act as a base for a drive down Highway 1 (south of Monterey).
Big Sur as it’s known is renowned for its stunning views of the coast which was my sole purpose for wanting to head down there. We rented a car from Enterprise and after a 35-40 minute drive out of Monterey, you hit Big Sur which has a number of road stops/trails off the main highway which offer ample opportunity to explore the area or, as we tended to do – sit and take in the beautiful views.  There are some key spots I would recommend which I detail below.


Things to Do/See/Eat 

  • Monterey Aquarium and Whale Watching – two separate activities but linked in their nature (figuratively and literally). I enjoyed the 3 hour boat ride to go Whale watching. Its more an hour of watching, and hour each way to get to the prime ‘Whale spot’. The sea was a bit choppy so we did see a few ‘Vomit Comets’.
    I booked through Princess Monterey and found the information they provided on the excursion to be really great. We saw a number of different type of Whale, Seals and Sea Otters. The only disappointment for me was not catching a better glimpse of the famous Black and White of the Orca.
    I also really liked the fact that despite having a boat full of tourists, the crew did not hound the whales around and left them to act like they do naturally. It’s clear they only spend 5-10 minutes watching a certain Whale Pod before moving on. Wildlife conservation and appreciation is valued across all of the Bay I found.
  •  Pfeiffer Beach on Big Sur – my favourite spot. This place gets very windy in the afternoon, but the purple sand on the beach and perfectly placed Pfeiffer Rock made it a spot where I wanted to just sit and chill all day. Maybe next time.
    To get to the beach is a bit of a challenge. Unlike other spots on Big Sur – it’s not very well signposted and needs research.
    Tip: Google Maps research will get you close – to find the beach, you are looking for a small sign on side of the road reading ‘Narrow Road’ which you need to go down. This is a precursor to about a mile or so of driving down a incredibly bendy road, which is mostly single track. Being my first time driving out of the UK, I came perilously close to the edge of the road (which led to steep drop) on a few occassions – or so I’m told. I was driving a 6 seater SUV in my defence.
    Once you get to the bottom of the road there is (limited) parking which costs $10-ish for a spot but its totally worth the time and effort. Get there early to avoid parking disappointment.
  • McWay Falls – another beautiful and popular spot. Famed for a waterfall coming out of a cliff and landing the beach below (although I was told sometimes the water doesn’t flow). I should add, most “prime” spots along Big Sur are easily identifiable by the number of cars/people at the side of the road. If you see a mini-gathering whilst driving, it might be worth pulling over to check out what’s going on.
  • Bixby Bridge – famous bridge on Highway 1. You probably don’t know the name but you will recognise the bridge. I loved the architecture of it.
  • Eat – Nepenthe was recommended to me and I think most people who drive Big Sur stop here for a lunch refuel. Food wise, it was tasty American style grub but what really makes the place is the incredible view over the coast.

Vancouver | Canada

Destination

Vancouver, Canada.

Date of Travel

April, 2016.

When reading ‘things to do’ in Vancouver, I found most recommendations were very ‘outdoorsy’, something which again I think is very quintessentially Canadian and is in line with how I like to spend my time.
Similarly with food too, being on the coast, Fish is the overarching specialist ingredient at most places. Being a lover of all things Sushi, this ticked the box for me.
Interestingly something like  25-30% of people who live in Vancouver City have a Chinese heritage, which is demonstrated by the abundance of Asian inspired (and presumably genuine) eateries.

One thing I hadn’t quite realised is the vast difference within Vancouver itself. This trip references the City and was purely focussed there.
However, there is a completely different side to Vancouver. One which I (wrongly) assumed could be seen with little to no preparation and tagged onto a trip to the City.
However, it seems Vancouver Island needs more thought behind it before visiting. From what I have seen, it looks amazing (a quick Google search yields images of untouched beaches, forests and clear waters inhabited by Killer Whales).
Whilst I thought that visiting Vancouver would tick it off the ‘hit list’ – its clear there is another part of this place that I need to explore.

Top Things To Do, See (and Eat) in Vancouver

  • Grouse Mountain – a place to ice skate, ski, play Ice Hockey, run, hike, snow walk. Despite mild weather below the cloud (on a cloudy day you will take a aerial tramway through the cloud to the top), deep snow covered the summit in April. My choice of Converse Chuck Taylors to hike wasn’t a good idea in hindsight. Snow shoes can be rented however.
  • Granville Island/Market – the market is a foodies dream. The indoor food market, has a vast array of fresh foods. I wont list them all, but you have fresh seafood, Chinese, Japanese, Indian etc etc all of which is served from market stalls. I went for the healthy option of a fresh salad followed up by a not so healthy Nutella inspired Crepe (Nutella being my kryptonite). Overall both left me happy.
    To access Granville Market you get a small ‘ferry’ from Downtown across the Island. If you had a strong arm you could probably throw a ball from one side to the other, but the little Ferry across adds to the charm of it all.
  • Stanley Park – man made park that is surrounded by the main Harbour and English Bay. You can hire bikes to ride around the sea wall (its about 15km from memory). You get awesome views of downtown Van City as well as surrounding mountains and ocean. Allow 3-4 hours to go round at a very leisurely pace. Stop, take a breather, sit and enjoy the scenery.
  • Capilano Suspension Bridge – To the north of Vancouver which can be accessed by a free shuttle bus from the main city (perfectly organised and not surprisingly all the drivers/guides are super helpful and polite). Great place to walk, and offers a ‘cliff walk’ which is not advisable if afraid of heights (I’m being over dramatic, it’s not that bad). The actual Bridge itself is a cool experience (fun fact: you could fit the statue of Liberty under the Bridge).
  • English Bay – you will notice a theme here…walk down from Granville market and you will find another picturesque walking spot that is to the south of Stanley Park (which stretches across to Kitsilano). I didn’t check out Kitsilano Beach due to weather/time constraints but I here it’s another great spot.
  • Food – given the local emphasis on Fish of the 3 nights I was there, I opted for Sushi for 2 of them (from different places) my favourite place being Minami. I’ve been fortunate to eat at a few high-end Japanese restaurants and I would rate this a solid 8/10 (10 being very high end). Good, fresh Sushi and a nice selection of happy hour cocktails. Price range – It was about $120 (ca) for two plus tip.