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December 6, 2016

Top 10 memorable moments from a Canada road trip

Top 10 memorable moments from a Canada road trip
At the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff Canada

Zoe and Ali at the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff

When you go on an RV road trip in Canada, you’re guaranteed a great many memorable moments, whichever part of the country you visit. But when you drive through British Columbia and Alberta via the Rockies from Vancouver to Calgary these moments tumble over each other almost every hour. Here are just a few that stand out, but there were many more …

1. Walking in the desert at Osoyoos

Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre - Osoyoos - Canada

Osoyoos Desert – Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

The heat is the biggest surprise. The sun beats down as we walk though scrubby bushes and stunted trees. The heady scent from a herby shrub wafts past, bringing back vague memories of the wilder parts of Greece. Travel companion Ali is wearing a hat to keep cool as we walk through the desert. Yes, we’re in Canada, not a place you think of as really hot or with a desert, but at Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre we learn about this unique ecology and wildlife, including the Western Rattlesnake and the Cayote. We learn about the Osoyoos Indian Band, who run the Desert Centre and nearby RV Park and admire Smoker Marchand sculptures. It’s fascinating, surprising and very hot.

2.  Eating cherries on the road

Cherries from a farm shop in Okanagan Valley Canada

Cherries at the farm shop

We buy a kilo of big, fat, sweet and oh so very juicy cherries from one of the farm shops along the Okanagan Valley. It’s late spring and the whole area is bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables in this very fertile part of southern Canada. We’ve been told to get the cherries as it’s the best crop for years. We’re on our way to the Rockies but have a long way to go and these deep red globes of delicious goodness keep us going all the way to Revelstoke. Fortunately there is a market and we can stock up again; luckily they last until our first glimpse of the Rockies.

3.  The Pipe Mountain Coaster, Revelstoke

The Pipe Mountain Coaster Revelstoke

Ready, steady, go …

‘Keep off the brake. Don’t be a chicken!’ The words of the bearded Canadian guy in the queue, resound in my ears as I zoom down the sheer drop VERY fast. I desperately want to pull brake, but two things stop me.

  • I’m worried I’m going so fast I’ll tip out
  • I don’t want to be a chicken.

I’m on the Pipe Mountain Coaster in Revelstoke, British Columbia. Riding up in the gondola, the Monashee Mountains and Columbia River spread beneath us. Whizzing down the mountain, I’ve no time to look at the view. Fir trees flick past as the little cart twists, turns and at one point appears to shoot off the edge, accelerating past a ski run on its way down 1.4km of track at up to 26mph. All too soon, I’m at the end, exhilarated and wanting to do again – me no chicken!

4  BBQ at Dutch Lake Resort, Clearwater

BBQ burgers at Dutch Lake Resort Canada - photo zoedawes

Burgers for dinner

The sound of wood chopping has stopped and there’s smoke wafting in through the door of the RV. Ali’s got the BBQ going and I’ve finished preparing the salad and opened a couple of beers. Beef burgers from a local butcher sizzle merrily on the metal rack we’ve just bought from Dutch Lake Resort shop. A couple of guys from the RV next door come over to chat whilst we wait for the burgers to cook. The sun’s setting over the lily-strewn lake and frogs start croaking in the shallows. The tantalizing smell of onions and burgers get the taste buds going. Love eating outdoors in Canada …

5.  The Rockies from the top of Whistler Mountain

The Rockies and Jasper Sky Tram - Whistler Mountain - Canada - photo zoedawes

The Rockies and Jasper Sky Tram

At last I’m here, on top of Whistler Mountain gazing out across the most famous mountains in North America. Their pointed tops ripple across the horizon, perfectly mountainy. Snow glitters in the late afternoon light and a ribbon of river ripples through the wooded valley. A lake of startling blue water glistens and winks upwards. Quirky Jasper town curves alongside the railway track and birds glide on the chilly thermals. Neither words nor photos can do justice to this awesome sight.

6. Relaxing by Medicine Lake

Wild flowers by Medicine Lake in the Rockies - photo zoedawes

Wild flowers by Medicine Lake

The calm waters ripple briefly as a duck floats serenely past. At the end of the lake tower the jaggy peaks of the Rockies, reflected in shimmering symmetry. I drink in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Medicine Lake in the heart of Jasper National Park, in Alberta. Delicate white and yellow wild flowers bend their dainty heads in the gentle breeze and overhead a large bird wheels its way across the cloud-flecked sky; too far away to see if it’s a bald eagle. A stone lands with a resounding splash to my left and two children giggle; the spell is broken and it’s time to move on and explore more …

7.  Driving the RV along the Icefields Parkway

RV on the Icefields Parkway The Rockies Canada - photo zoedawes

RV on the Icefields Parkway

After hundreds of miles we are finally driving along one of the world’s most spectacular roads, the Icefields Parkway, from Jasper to Banff. Every twist and turn reveals more mountains until we feel completely surrounded. We are running parallel to the Continental Divide from Jasper National Park to Banff National Park stopping off at the Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Pass, Stutfield and Athabasca Glaciers, Peyto Lake, Wildfowl Lake and Lake Louise.  We see mountain goats, many birds, wild flowers and tourists. It could take us a few hours; it actually takes us all day, every mile a miracle of natural wonder and delight …

8.  The unbelievable blue of Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake Alberta Canada - photo zoedawes

Peyto Lake

You have to see it to believe it …

9. Cocktail at the Banff Springs Hotel

Cocktail on the Terrace Banff Springs Hotel Canada

Cocktail on the Terrace

After all the driving, staying in campgrounds and sightseeing it’s so relaxing to have a Mojito on the terrace of the splendidly luxurious Banff Springs Hotel. With panoramic views of the Bow River and the Rocky Mountains, it’s a suitably fitting place to absorb scenery and reflect on our epic road trip through the Rockies …

10. To boldly go – to Vulcan

RV outside Trekcetera Museum Alberta

RV outside Trekcetera Museum

From the sublime to the … well, not ridiculous, but definitely surreal. Walking into a room with wall-to-wall costumes and artefacts from Star Trek, being shown round by a flamboyant and highly entertaining TV and movie enthusiast, dressed as a 19th C dandy cowboy, is a really quirky contrast to the natural wonders we have seen over the past couple of weeks. The Trekcetera Museum in Vulcan (the town name came first) has the largest collection of Trekkie memorabilia in Canada and we feel vaguely hysterical as we leave to find a bottle of wine for our last night sleeping in our trusty RV. Live long and prosper …

Trekcetera Museum Vulcan

Trekcetera Museum

#ExploreCanada Road Trip

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign, driving the RV from Vancouver to Montreal. Many thanks to Alison Bailey for her unfailing good humour, practical advice and excellent driving. Much gratitude to all the people we met along the way who made it such a memorable trip.

memorable-canada-pinterest

Read more about our Canada RV road trip:

The Quirky Traveller: History in the Rocky Mountains

Heather on Her Travels: Foodie Adventures – Ontario and Quebec

Travel with Kat: Top 10 things to do in British Columbia

On the Luce: Calgary to Toronto – Unforgettable Moments

November 22, 2016

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia
Canoeing on Margaret River Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Canoeing on the Margaret River

“It’s a rippa of a day. Hope you’re enjoying yourselves. It’s so beautiful here and hardly anyone ever does this.” Apparently ‘a rippa of a day‘ means ‘absolutely fantastic’, ‘here‘ is Margaret River, after which the nearby town is named, in Western Australia, and ‘this‘ is canoeing along the river. We’d just had a brief rain shower and now the weather was clearing as we paddled slowly along the wide and tranquil stretch of water. The roots of huge trees entangled the shores and their tops towered over us, swaying gently in the breeze. I was in a canoe with our guide for the day, Sean Blocksidge, who runs the Margaret River Discovery Company and food blogger Niamh Shields. Also on our tour were a honeymoon couple from Australia and another couple from America.

Paddling canoe on the Margaret River, Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Paddling our canoes

After our canoe trip, we went to the waterfall on Margaret River, in full spate due to an exceptionally wet winter. We sat down beside it and Sean explained its significance to local Aboriginal people as a tribal camp ground. He’d brought along some bread and three types of honey for us to try. “This is honey-gold. It’s called Karri, from the local Karri tree [eucalyptus diversicolor], which grows round here. It has strong healing properties and is highly valued.” They all tasted good but this one was a real winner.

Karri honey at Margaret River waterfall Western Australia

Karri Honey

We headed off in Sean’s 4X4 to Prevelly for a quick coffee at the White Elephant Cafe and to have a look at one of the area’s premier surfing beaches, Gnarabup. This area had also been hit by big storms so the weather was unseasonably cold and wet. Even so, we could appreciate it and see why, in the summer months, it is one of the most popular places not just for surfing but also to relax and enjoy this lovely coastline.

Gnarabup Beach Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Gnarabup Beach

Having been refreshed, we set off to explore some of area’s countryside and Sean regaled us with tales of his life and local history. including the horrific bush fire of 2011 that destroyed a vast swathe of the area. Luckily no-one was injured, but one of Western Australia’s oldest homes, Wallcliffe House, built in 1865, was gutted. It was an important example of early colonial architecture and home to one of WA’s finest collections of antique furniture. Driving on through the lush countryside, we passed dozens of vineyards. Margaret River is famous the world over for the quality of its wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonney but increasingly for other, lesser known wines and blends. With its consistent growing seasons, mild winter, pleasant summer, good rainfall and fertile soil, it is home to over 150 wineries – and the number is growing.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling Margaret River WA

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling

The previous day, Niamh and I had experienced an excellent Wine and Food Tasting at the Leeuwin Estate, one of the five founding wineries in Margaret River. Not only do they produce superb wines but they have a unique collection of modern art, which they use for the labels on their very distinctive Art Series wines. (Watch out for more in my next article on Food and Drink in Western Australia.)

Fraser Gallop Estate Margaret River Western Australia

Fraser Gallop Estate

Now we were visiting Fraser Gallop Estate, an up and very much coming winery that’s already producing some distinctive award-winning wines. Francine Davies showed us round. “The Fraser Gallop Estate winery is custom designed to process a maximum capacity of 300 tonnes of grapes, particularly designed in layout and size for the fermentation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends.” We then had an informal lunch of local food, including octopus, duck and chicken liver pate, smoked trout and venison chorizo. Sean explained each wine and we sipped glass after glass with much relish. A big favourite was the splendid 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Just suck it up,” said Sean in typical Aussie fashion – and we did! NB: this estate is not usually open for public visits.

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate - Margaret River - Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate

After such a hedonistic lunch, it was time to get some fresh air and we headed back to the coast. The Cape to Cape Track is a 135km route beside the Indian Ocean  from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste, past dramatic seascapes and pristine beaches, along undulating paths. We parked up and set off a steady pace, walking through a vibrant patchwork of plants, shrubs and trees. This part of Australia is known for its wild flowers and in spring they burst with colour and scent. (We were visiting in October, the perfect time to see them.) Beneath us waves crashed against the shore and overhead seabirds wheeled. Sean told us to look out for migrating whales; we saw none, possibly due to the stormy weather. Sea spray brought the zing of ozone and the ocean was dappled with sunlight.

Spring flowers on Cape to Cape Track Margaret River - Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Cape to Cape Track Margaret River

After about an hour we had to turn round, but not before Sean had taken a photo of each of us perched on a rock above the cliffs. Windblown and happy, we then returned to the vehicle, making the most of our time out in this glorious scenery. Back in the town of Margaret River, Niamh and I said goodbye to Sean, who suggested we drive to a road near where we were staying, to see kangaroos having their evening meal. Here they are …

Kangaroos at Margaret River

We stayed at Basildene Manor near the town of Margaret River. This beautiful boutique hotel was built by Percy Willmott, a lighthouse keeper at Cape Leeuwin, in 1912. He created a splendid home resembling a relative’s grand country estate in England. It’s welcoming, luxurious and delightfully quirky, with lovely grounds and truly scrumptious home-made cakes.

Basildene Manor Margaret River Western Australia

Basildene Manor

I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA and would like to thank everyone, including a great bunch of fellow bloggers, who made this such a memorable adventure.

Zoe Dawes aka The Quirky Traveller on the Cape to Cape Track - Margaret River - Western Australia

Happy memories …

More about my trip to Western Australia: Rottnest Island in search of the quirky quokka and Top Places to Eat and Drink in Fremantle.

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The Quirky Traveller Top Tips for Margaret River - Western Australia

November 4, 2016

To Western Australia in search of the quirky quokka

To Western Australia in search of the quirky quokka
In search of the quokka - Rottnest Express - Fremantle - image zoedawes

The Rottnest Express in Fremantle

What on earth is a quokka?

Aye, that is the question. I get an email outlining the itinerary for our blog trip to Western Australia and there, on Day 1, it says we’ll be visiting Rottnest Island, with its ‘casual atmosphere, picturesque scenery and some of the world’s finest beaches.‘ Sounds lovely but I’ve never heard of Rottnest Island. As soon as I type Rottnest Island into Google, the words ‘quokka‘ and ‘animals‘ come up. I am intrigued. I need to know more …

Parker Point Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Parker Point on Rottnest Island

Western Australia website says, ‘… you’ll meet the cutest mini marsupial, found only in Western Australia, the world famous quokka, as well as many unique plant and animal species. Apparently, Rottnest Island Golf Course is being ‘plagued by an explosion of quokkas.’  It’s described as the ‘happiest animal in the world’ and the internet is alive with photos of grinning quokkas.  Good heavens. What on earth is a quokka?

The quokka - happiest animal in the world.

The quokka – ‘happiest animal in the world’. Photos from internet

The Quokka

The quokka is small macropod about the size of a domestic cat. Like other marsupials in the macropod family (such as kangaroos and wallabies), the quokka is herbivorous and mainly nocturnal. It has a stocky build, rounded ears, and a short, broad head. Although looking rather like a very small kangaroo, it can climb small trees and shrubs. Its coarse fur is a grizzled brown colour, fading to buff underneath. Wikipedia

Even more intrigued, I am now really looking forward to seeing one of these quirky creatures.

Quokka eating a leaf - Rottnest Island in Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Quokka eating a leaf

Rottnest Island

We board the Rottnest Express in Fremantle on the west coast of Australia and in less than half an hour we’ve arrived in another world, where life moves at a more leisurely pace, bicycles replace cars and the elusive quokka has taken over the golf course …

Thomson Bay on Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Thomson Bay

We get on our hired bikes and pedal off towards the Visitor Information Centre. Whilst a helfpful guide shows us where to go on a map, all I want to know is where the quokkas are. Will I get to see one easily? Are they shy? Where’s the best place to see them? ‘Oh they’re all over the place. You’ll see plenty in and around town and they’re not at all shy. You can take photos but please don’t touch them or feed them.’ I’m starting to feel quietly excited …

Rottnest Settlement and quokka - collage zoedawes

Rottnest Settlement and quokka

Downtown Rottnest (the Settlement) is a short tree-lined walk of shops, cafes and a bakery. We leave our bikes and there, next to the bike stand, is a chubby quokka fast asleep under a tree. I stoop down to take a photo and the quokka wakes up. It gives me a quick stare then starts grooming its tummy. Looks cute but definitely more rat than cat-like! Outside the bakery a quokka is on the table eating crumbs, surrounded by ooohing and aaahing admirers. In front of the supermarket, one is hopping along looking vaguely shifty; there’s a big sign saying No Quokkas.

No quokkas here - Rottnest Island

No quokkas here

I set off with the other bloggers on a bike ride round the island, but it starts to rain so I decide to go to the little Museum, housed in one of the Victorian buildings left from the days when Rottnest was a prison island for Aboriginal People. There is an excellent exhibition telling the sad story of these prisoners, as well artefacts from the days when the island became a holiday resort. In the middle of the room is a cabinet with a stuffed quokka, bearing the title, The controversial Quokka. 

Stuffed quokka in Rottnest museum

Stuffed quokka in museum

Rottnest Island (known as Wadjemup to the local Noongar people and Rotto by many), was named Rotte Nest (Rat’s Nest) by a Dutch explorer in 1696. The island was overrun with quokkas but the introduction of foxes and destruction of their natural habitat meant their numbers dwindled almost to extinction. The island is now a designated protected area and there are about 12,000 quokkas living on Rottnest.

Quokka on the town - Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Quokka on the town

When the rain stops, I get the Hop-on, Hop-off Explorer Bus which goes round the coast. The island is ringed with gorgeous, sandy beaches and enticing bays. I get off at Parker Point and go for a paddle in the shallow, translucent waters of the Indian Ocean. It’s a bit chilly but the sun’s out and I can imagine how refreshing it must be in the height of summer.

Rottnest Island Beaches Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Rottnest Island Beaches

Walking on round the coast, people pass on bikes, waving hello as they glide by. I flag down another bus at Salmon Point and we head off past Wadjemup Lighthouse towards Cape Vlamingh at the western end of the island. At the bus-stop a group of tourists are gathered round a quokka on its hind legs, begging for food. Cameras and videos capture the moment; these little creatures are real super-stars of Western Australia.

Quokka near Cape Vlamingh Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Quokka near Cape Vlamingh

The bus winds its way past the Salt Lakes and holiday homes before arriving back at Thomson Bay. I get off and have a look at the historic buildings. As well as the old prison Quod, there’s a chapel and a quaint little Picture House, showing Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’. Quokkas are everywhere, particularly under the Island Tea Tree and Rottnest Island Pines, where they find their favourite food. I see a group of them in a wooded area near the Picture House and sit down to watch them. One wanders over to have a look at my rucksack, which has some fruit inside. This curious chap clambers all over my bag and camera trying to get at them. He’s very close and the temptation to reach out and stroke his furry back is almost overwhelming. I grab my iPhone and video him (or maybe it’s a her?). I take a photo; my hand is shaking at being so near, not wanting to scare him away …

Up close with a quokka - Rottnest Island - photo zoedawes

Up close with a quokka

Eventually he gives up and potters off. It’s time to meet up with the others at Hotel Rottnest for a bite to eat before we leave the island to return to Fremantle. I’ve not managed to get the famous ‘quokka selfie’ but I have got VERY close to one of the world’s rarest and cutest wild animals. It’s our first day here and already I’m a bit in love with this part of Australia, but even more, I’m totally besotted with the quirky quokka.

The Quirky Quokka of Rottnest Island Western Australia - photo zoedawes

The Quirky Quokka of Rottnest Island

You can see more of beautiful Rottnest Island in this Quirky Travel Guide video, which also features the quokka clambering over my rucksack!


I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA and would like to thank everyone, including a great bunch of fellow bloggers, involved in making this such a memorable trip.

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In search of the quirky quokka - zoedawes

 

October 19, 2016

Top Tips for your RV road trip in Canada

Top Tips for your RV road trip in Canada

It looked a lot bigger than I had imagined. It also looked a lot prettier, covered in views of Canada’s splendid scenery. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Once you get on the road, you’ll soon forget its size and be enjoying yourself behind the wheel.” I was at the Cruise Canada pick-up centre in Vancouver, about to set off on a two-week RV (Recreational Vehicle) road trip to Calgary via the Rocky Mountains, with photographer Alison Bailey. Luckily, Ali was familiar with driving a camper van and took in all the instructions from the very helpful guy at the depot.

Cruise Canada Standard RV

Picking up Rocky – Cruise Canada Standard RV

He was right. Once we were on the road and got used to driving Rocky (we were going through the Rockies so it seemed appropriate to name this hunky vehicle), it did become much easier. We had the Standard version, which is 25′ long, sleeps 5 and comes with a gas cooker and sink, fridge-freezer, plenty of cupboard space, water, electricity and sewage connections, a shower and big beds. For two weeks we travelled across Canada in this RV (motorhome), including the stupendous Rockies, staying in RV campgrounds of varying standards and facilities, met some lovely people along the way and found out more about the Canadian ‘culture’ of the RV road trip. You can follow our route on this map. Here’s what I learnt.

Map RV Road Trip from Vancouver to Calgary Canada

RV Road Trip – Vancouver to Calgary

RV Road Trip Tips

1.  Book a vehicle that’s big enough for your RV road trip

Nk'Mip RV Park Osoyoos Lake

RV beside Lake Osoyoos

Yes, I know it sounds obvious but actually it’s easy to just go by the number of sleeping spaces and think that’s going to be fine. We were doing our trip on behalf of Explore Canada who’d booked the trip and I had assumed, as there were only two of us, we’d get Cruise Canada’s smallest RV, the Compact, which sleeps three ie with one double bed and one single made up from the dining table. Thank goodness we got the next size up. Apart from both needing a decent size bed, we didn’t have to keep shifting the table and also there was way more space inside for all our things. If you’re going for a weekend then maybe a smaller size is fine, but for longer, then go for the bigger size if you can afford it. Had been actually been 5 of us in the Standard RV it would have been VERY cosy …

Nk'Mip RV Park Osoyoos Lake

Our first 2 nights were spent in Osoyoos on the Canada/USA border in the excellent Nk’Mip RV Park and Campground. We were lucky to get a pitch by the lake, and as you can see, Rocky was most definitely NOT the biggest kid on the block. Some Canadian and American RVs are HUGE!

2.  Make sure your RV has enough storage space

Interior of Cruise Canada Standard RV

Ali getting the lowdown on the interior of the RV

This follows on directly from Tip 1, but is relevant whatever size RV you get. If you’re on a long road trip, you’ll probably be taking quite a lot of stuff with you. Canada’s climate is very changeable, depending on where you are and what season. We travelled in early summer and got everything from hot sunshine in Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley and Calgary, to sleet and cool winds in the Rockies. Our RV had loads of storage, as you can see from this video, not only for clothes but also for food and cooking utensils. There was a fridge and also a freezer, which was really useful as we cooked almost every day during our trip. On the outside of the RV there was a large storage space which had our picnic table and chairs, spare wood for BBQ plus extra food.

Food and drink in RV

Food and drink in RV

The second stop on our road trip was at the Williamson Lake Campground in quirky Revelstoke, a railway town with a vibrant winter sports scene. It rained quite heavily here and it was great to have plenty of space to make a meal, eat at the table and then relax ‘indoors’ in the evening. You can see the RV interior in this video.

3.  Familiarise yourself with all the ‘technical things’

RV driver cab storage

The Driver’s Cab essentials …

There’s no getting away from it, a motorhome or RV has a lot more things to get to know than a car or even a simple camper van. If you’re British, you may not have driven an automatic before and there’s something called the Tow Hold for going up (or was it down?) hills. You need to be clear about the electrics for the interior lighting and heating but most important is the Hook-Up. This is where you get to connect the electricity, water (and sewage if you’re lucky) to the mains on your RV pitch at the campground. It’s not difficult, just a matter of remembering which way to turn things, but it is really IMPORTANT. Watch Ali demonstrating the Cruise Canada RV Hook Up in this video.


Here’s where I make a confession. During the whole trip I didn’t once do the hook-up. Ali very kindly did all that every time we arrived and departed – and got VERY quick at it. You can see more of super-star Ali here as she demonstrates UNHOOKING the Cruise Canada RV in this video.


NB: Make sure you know what noise the smoke/gas detector makes. Ali had gone for a walk and I was in the RV parked by the Columbia River in Revelstoke, writing my journal when suddenly there was a very loud and continuous noise. I couldn’t work out what it was or where in the RV it was coming from. Fortunately Ali came back in time; I’d not turned off a gas ring properly and it was the alarm telling me to get out before I succumbed to propane gas fumes … Thanks Ali!

RV at Columbia River Revelstoke

RV beside the Columbia River, Revelstoke

 

4.  Cook and eat outdoors

Lunch overlooking Lake Okanagan - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Lunch overlooking Okanagan Lake

One of the huge pluses in an RV Road Trip is being able stop when you want, rustle up a snack, get out the chairs and enjoy the view. Most memorable was lunch on a sunny day driving from Osoyoos to Revelstoke when we stopped beside Okanagan Lake. As you can see, we really did relax. Nearly all the campgrounds we visited had a fire-pit or BBQ plus a bench beside each RV pitch. If there is a site shop, it will usually sell wood and charcoal. If not, stock up on some at the local supermarket. Ali was a dab hand at chopping wood, borrowing an axe from whoever was parked nearby, and could get a fire going, even in the rain. We ate outside as often as possible, using the fire-pit when we could or just rustling up something inside and eating it beside the van. It’s very sociable as many others will be doing the same.

BBQ meal RV Road Trip Canada

BBQ dinner at Dutch Lake Resort

At tranquil Dutch Lake Resort and RV Park in Clearwater, near Wells Gray Provincial Park BC, we had a great time cooking burgers and then enjoying them with a beer overlooking the pretty lake.

5. Enjoy the drive

Zoe Dawes driving on RV road trip Canada

Driving the RV

Canadian roads are generally wide and easy to navigate. Our RV had very big wing mirrors, split in two (see photo above by Columbia River) so we could see all along the side to the back of the vehicle. After some initial nerves about the length and width of our RV, I soon forgot about it and felt (amost) as comfortable driving Rocky as I did my own car back home. One warning; Canadian road signs are pants! They seem to assume you know where you are going and hardly ever seem to give directions for where you need to be. Our Cruise Canada RV didn’t have satnav – thanks heavens for Google Maps.

The Rockies - RV Road Trip Canada - image zoedawes

On the road to the Rockies

 If you’re doing the Rockies in your RV (and that is such a great way to see this iconic mountain region), then be prepared for some seriously great scenery round every corner. Apart from the initial route out of Vancouver, we mainly drove along the flat,  not OVER the mountains, which was a pleasant surprise. Ali and I took it in turns so we could enjoy the view and take photos through the van window. Once we got to the Jasper National Park we could barely speak for excitement at the views. (The signage improved too.)

The Rockies in Jasper National Park - RV Road Trip - image zoedawes

The Rockies in Jasper National Park

We spent one memorable night in the pouring rain at Gregg Lake Campground, in William A Switzer Provincial Park. It was notable for the limited facilities (we had no water or sewage pipe but there was a shower block) and the abundance of pine trees. On the way there we saw the most splendid rainbow arcing over the Rocky Mountains.

Rainbow in the Rockies - RV Road Trip Canada - image zoedawes

Rainbow from RV window

6.  Keep your eyes open

Rocky Mountain Sheep at Miette Hot Springs - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Rocky Mountain Sheep at Miette Hot Springs

Keep your eyes open, not just so you don’t fall asleep but also to spot the vast array of wildlife you’ll see along the way. We saw mountain sheep at Miette Hot Springs and TWO black bears beside the road in the Rockies. Tip: if you see a number of vehicles pulled up by the roadside, chances are there’s a wild animal nearby.

Black bears in the Rockies - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Black bears from the RV

“Zoe, wake up. There are elk all round the RV.” It was about 6am  in Whistler’s Campground near Jasper and Ali woke me up to see these elegant animals, which were sleeping, eating and totally unbothered by all the RVs and two avid photographers nearby.

Elk in Whistlers Campground - RV Road Trip Canada - image zoedawes

Elk beside the RV

Click on link to see more elk at Whistler’s Campground – not the best quality video but you get an idea of how close we were!

7.  Plan your trip carefully

Banff town signpost - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Banff town

I’ve left this to last as it is possibly the most important. Before you leave home, have a good look at a map and talk with anyone who has been to the area you’re visiting. Your hire company can help too. Hopefully you’ll have lots of stops and time to explore, but remember the distances can be great, there are strict speed limits (National Parks max 90 kms ph), and there is so much to see you’ll want to stop often. We could have driven the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff in about 3 hours. It took us all day; it truly deserves its reputation as one of the world’s top road routes.

Stutfield Glacier - Icefields Parkway Canada - image zoedawes

Stutfield Glacier – Icefields Parkway

You’ll need to take time out to rest as sometimes you’ll probably have long distances to drive. On our RV road trip we drove over 3,500 kilometres in two weeks from Vancouver to Calgary, which meant just about every other day was a long drive. Sharing the driving really helps. When you’ve got your route clear, choose your campgrounds carefully. They usually have more facilities than UK ones, and are geared up for big RVs but some have more amenities than others. You may want a shop or restaurant and a launderette is very handy. Our shower was small so we used the wash blocks on all the sites we visited. At Spring Creek RV Campground in Canmore, not far from Banff, there was everything we needed, though it was more crowded than some others. BOOK in ADVANCE, especially during high season or in popular areas like the National Parks.

Spring Creek RV Campground - Banff Canada

Spring Creek RV Campground

And finally …

Our last stop was in the really quirky town of Vulcan, which is the Star Trek capital of Canada … in some ways it was a very suitable place for our last night with Rocky. No mountains, rivers or glaciers, just the wide prairies of Alberta and a space ship! The sun set as we had our last meal (sausage and sweet potato mash with red wine) as we reminisced.

RV in Vulcan Alberta Canada

RV in Vulcan

Ali and I loved every minute of our RV Road Trip and we were  really sad when we handed Rocky back to the Cruise Canada depot in Calgary. I hope you get a chance to experience something similar – if I can do it, anyone can …

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Top Tips for Canada RV Road Trip

#ExploreCanada Road Trip

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign. Many thanks to Alison Bailey for her unfailing good humour, practical advice and excellent driving. Much gratitude to all the people we met along the way who made it such a memorable trip.

Read more about our road trip:

The Quirky Traveller: 24 hours in Calgary

Heather on her Travels: How to drive an RV from Toronto to Montreal

Travel with Kat: Vancouver Island Road Trip

On the Luce: First timer’s guide to driving an RV

July 13, 2016

‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ Life’s adventure with Dr Seuss

‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ Life’s adventure with Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss Oh the places you'll go

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

The opening words of ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’, a delightful little book by Dr Seuss, are positive and life-affirming. They also epitomize the philosophy of many of us who choose to set off to Great Places as often as we possibly can. These places may be real; a holiday on a sun-kissed island like Menorca, a trek through the Australian Bush, a train journey through the Swiss Alps, a boat trip to watch bears in Canada or a meander beside an English lake. But they could equally be places we go metaphorically. The word ‘journey’ is hugely overused these days, but life really is a journey, with all the attendant ups and downs that any literal journey brings …

‘Oh, the places you’ll go’ is advice to a young boy who leaves home to explore the world. He’s told that he’s in charge of his own life and can make his own decisions on what direction to his journey will take.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

The book, written as a poem, takes the lad through highs and lows, assuring him that, ‘You’ll be on your way up, You’ll be seeing great sights, You’ll join the high fliers who soar to the heights.’  But then there are the lows and attendant problems.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

We’re all familiar with the ‘Waiting Place’ where people are just,

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting …

Escaping from this dreary place, the boy is told he’ll escape to find the, bright places where Boom Bands are playing’ and he’ll ride high. And so he will go on, becoming successful and seeming to have everything in life until one day, whether he likes it or not, ‘Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.’ It’s very unusual for a children’s book, for that is what ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’ was written as, to address loneliness. Yet that is something most of us will experience at some time in our lives, and some people are lonely a lot of the time.

All Alone from Oh the places you'll go by Dr Seuss

However, in the realistic but upbeat tone of the book, Dr Seuss says he will overcome the things that scare him right out of his pants, in spite of getting mixed up with ‘strange birds’ and the ‘frightening creek’. Through it all he’s counselled to, ‘Step with great care and great tact’, and to remember that ‘Life’s a Great Balancing Act’. The story ends with these positive words,

So…

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So … get on your way!

Dr Seuss Oh the places you'll go - book

So, what are you waiting for? Today is YOUR day, your mountain is waiting … now get on your way 🙂

June 14, 2016

Petra; rose-red city at the end of the day

Petra; rose-red city at the end of the day

Sunset at Petra is a mystical time. The imposing buildings blush pink in the fading light as the seering heat fades and the day gradually cools down.

The Treasury Petra at sunset - photo zoedawes

The Treasury at sunset

Earlier on, the rainbow colours of the striated stone glow in the midday sun and the disant mountains shimmer in a heat haze. The wind that whistles through the Siq, narrow entrance to Petra, one of the top UNESCO World Heritage sites, shapes the walls and rocks into sinuous and weird shapes. One of the largest bears a remarkable resemblance to a fish.

Sandstone rock shaped like a fish, Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Sandstone fish

I spent a fascinating day exploring the ancient city of Petra and the end of the day was my favourite time. Most visitors had left and the Bedouin camel riders were wending their way back home, past intricately carved Nabatean tombs and deep caves.

Petra tombs and camel rider at sunset - photo zoedawes

Camel rider and tombs at sunset

A Victorian writer, John Burgon, won the Newdigate Prize in 1845 for his poem PetraThough he’d never actually visited the city, he’d heard about it in the news. Its ‘modern discovery’ by Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812, had created huge interest in this marvellous site. Here’s an extract from the poem.

Ad Deir - The Monastery Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Ad Deir – The Monastery

Petra

It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.

John Burgon 1845

The final line of this sonnet has become the most popular quote on Petra, and at sunset it is easy to see why, though it seems more pink than red in this light … What do you think?

The Treasury at sunset - Petra, Jordan - photo zoedawes

The Treasury at sunset

Unmissable Petra

Join me on a quick guided tour of Petra to get an idea of just how lovely this magical city really is.

I travelled round Jordan courtesy of Visit Jordan. Their website has lots of information and advice about this beautiful country. Further tips here: 5 Top Things to See in Jordan

May 31, 2016

Horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls, Menorca

Horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls, Menorca

As we neared the sandy hillock, a flash of water flittered across the skyline. A little breeze riffled across the grass and a seagull cried out as it wheeled away towards the distant town. The sea slowly spread out in shades of turquoise, jade green, deep purple and bright blue. My horse’s ears pricked as she snorted the sea-salt scented air and did a little jig of anticipation.

Cami de Cavalls Son Bou Menorca - zoedawes

Son Bou Beach

“Tana thinks she’s going for a canter along the beach, but we can’t ride there between May and October,” explained Gemma, my riding instructor and owner of Son Bou Rutas a Cavall. We walked nearer to the sea and stopped to admire the stunning view. To our left stretched a long sandy beach and the popular resort of Son Bou. To our right, rocky cliffs edged the ocean and a clearly marked path wound its way along the northern coast of Menorca.

Son Bou horse riding Cami de Cavalls Menorca

Gemma on Estelle at Son Bou

We were on the Cami de Cavalls, a historic route that circles the coast of Menorca (Minorca), an island off the coast of mainland Spain. Restored and fully opened in 2011, this ancient path may have been used by the Knights of James II in the 14th c. During the 1730s Governor Richard Kane had it cleared for use by the occupying British troops and it was marked on the first map of Menorca, drawn up by French cartographer in 1780.

The Cami de Cavalls

Cami de Cavalls at Son Bou Menorca

Cami de Cavalls route

Totalling 185 km, the Cami de Cavalls is divided up into 20 stages, and ” … crosses gullies, rocky zones, valleys, wetland and farming areas; it connects ancient watchtowers, lighthouses and trenches and it leads to a great deal of coves and spots of the island. (Cami de Cavalls 360) Menorca is a MAB (Man and Biosphere) UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which recognises its significance balancing socio-economic development and the preservation of the environment. Menorca has a unique combination of dune systems, gorges, marshlands and other geological attractions, with pre-historic archaeological remains and a traditional agricultural system. The Cami de Cavalls passes by all these areas, ensuring a fascinatingly diverse route, including Mahon, the capital and Ciutadella, the old capital. Popular with walkers, cyclists, mountain bikers and runners, without doubt the most enjoyable way to travel this route is on horseback.

Rider and walker Cami de Cavalls Menorca - zoedawes

Gemma talks to walker on the Cami de Cavalls

On arrival at the Rutas a Cavall Riding School, I met Gemma who has over 30 horses as well as a few donekeys and chickens. “I love horses and have rescued many since the recession hit our country. You’ll be riding Tana, a Menorcan Horse; she has a lovely temperament and is very gentle. She was winner of ‘Most Beautiful Mare’ in the fiestas a few years ago.” I was absolutely delighted to be riding a Menorcan Horse. This breed is renowned for its grace and agility during the famous Menorca Fiestas, where they rear up on their hind legs in the midst of enthusiastic revellers. I’ve been on many family holidays to Menorca but never had the chance to ride one of these majestic horses before.

Tana the Menorcan Horse

Tana the Menorcan Horse

Mounting Tana seemed a bit daunting (I hadn’t been riding for many years and wasn’t very fit!) but Gemma provided a stool to step up onto. She takes people of all levels and ages, going from gentle walk to hearty gallop, depending on ability. Having checked stirrups and tightened Tana’s girth, Gemma mounted her horse, Estelle, a magnificent black stallion with lots of fiesta experience. The Cami de Cavalls goes past the stables and we were soon ambling along a narrow, tree-shaded path, with spring flowers on either side and early butterflies drifting about.

Tana and Zoe on Cami de Cavalls Menorca

On the Cami de Cavalls

The path opened out into a wide valley. Gemma told me, “This gorge has one of only two working water wheels left on the island. There are turtles breeding again in the river and we occasionally see eagles here. A nature reserve ensures all the wildlife is protected.” It was really peaceful riding along this track, occasionally passed by walkers and once, a group of cyclists who were half way round the island on a cycling club holiday.

Riding through a valley near Son Bou Cami de Cavalls Menorca - zoedawes

Riding through the valley

Lying under a tree, a huge bull gazed placidly over his harem as they grazed on lush spring grass. A family of holiday-makers hurried by on their way to the beach. Two women with sturdy walking sticks said a cheery good morning and a group of Spanish runners jogged by, waving water bottles as they passed. Every so often Gemma dismounted to open a gate. She has an ingenious way to keep it open whilst other riders go through; she places a stone in the angle between the gate post and gate. I eventually got the knack of dislodging it as I rode through, enabling it to swing shut. Menorcan gates as things of beauty; carved by master-carpenters, they’re made from olive wood and have a graceful curve.

Opening a Menorcan gate with horse on Cami de Cavalls

Menorcan gate on the Cami de Cavalls

Eventually we came out to Son Bou beach, the longest on Menorca. In the distance wind-surfers were zipping over the waves and a tiny yacht sailed off towards Majorca. We walked up the sandhills to the top, from where we got a splendid view of the north coastline. The sea glittered enticingly beneath us and the sun enveloped us in a warm embrace. Tana stood very patiently whilst Gemma took lots of photos to capture the moment, whilst passing walkers admired our beautiful horses.

Zoe on Menorca horse Cami de Cavalls

On the sandhills at Son Bou

Being early in the season (May) there were not too many people about, so we posed to our heart’s content …

Tana and Zoe horse riding Menorca

Tana and Zoe at Son Bou

Tana and Zoe on sand hills at Son Bou Menorca

Good girl Tana

Admiring the view on horse at Son Bou Cami de Cavalls Menorca

Admiring the view

Eventually we had to return, though I would have been happy to ride on for much longer. As we went past a herd of horses, a young mare came galloping down the hill. Gemma shooed her away – apparently she was especially interested in our very fine stallion, Estelle. On the horizon a young foal raised its head and gazed across the meadow at us, whilst its mother and other horses grazed nearby.

Foal and other horses Menorca - zoedawes

Foal and other horses

Clouds were starting to roll in … Spring in Menorca is a lovely time to visit but the weather is quite changeable and rain looked imminent. “Shall we trot?” asked Gemma. “OK, I’ll give it a go.” With a gentle nudge, Tana set off at a brisk trot and I managed to keep my balance. Fortunately it wasn’t far to go and as pretty wild flowers flew by, I got into a bit of a rhythm as we came up the lane back to the riding school. Dismounting rather shakily I gave Tana a piece of carrot and a big hug; she really had made a dream come true …

Tana and Zoe Rutas a Cavall Riding School Menorca

Thank you Tana!

Video: Horse Riding along the Cami de Cavalls


You can find out more about Son Bou Rutas a Cavall – Horse Riding in Son Bou here

Son Bou Rutes a Cavall Menorca

Many thanks to Menorca Tourism for hosting my Travelator Media stay in Menorca, in partnership with Spain Tourism.

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Horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls Menorca

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