In mid June we made our first flight on a Boeing 787 – the Dreamliner as it is called. That name was so appropriate for the trip we were embarking upon, a “trip of a lifetime”. For us, a perfect journey includes mountainous country, dramatic seascapes and an element of remoteness. So where better
to go than to the northern Pacific coast of North America, where the mountains and glaciers meet the ocean and where Canada and Alaska are intertwined.
We’ve now been back for nearly a month and there has been time to gather together notes and start to make a coherent tale of our adventures. The whole trip had been organised from my desk at home with a little help from Flight Centre who got us a good deal on Premium flights to cross the Atlantic and for internal flights in Canada and the United States. Amazingly, everything worked to plan and we received great welcomes everywhere. One reason for this turned out to be that we were travelling independently and, as the people we met said, we had chosen to visit their countries, cities, communities and to stay at a particular B&B or use a particular bit of transport. This was in contrast to the relatively large numbers travelling in organised groups or on cruise ships who are largely insulated from the local people.
As I started to write some notes on the plane flying from London to Vancouver via Seattle, my train of thought was suddenly interrupted. Since take-off from Heathrow the flight had been entirely above a heavy cloud base. Now about 4 hours into the flight the clouds parted and Wow!!!! The mountains and glaciers of Greenland appeared, literally out of the blue. Fantastic. The sea was still completely frozen. Near to us were black, rocky mountains marking the eastern edge of the landmass. To the north was one
vast snow and ice field stretching as far as the eye could see. Somewhere up there was the North Pole. I was mesmerized by the spectacle until, a while later, we had crossed the western seaboard of this remote and almost uninhabited country and the plane moved back into the clouds.
Back to the trip. True to the title of this blog, there would be elements of trains and boats and planes.
In addition, there would be bus journeys and a few days with a rental car. The latter was to get us around an area of Vancouver Island with few buses otherwise everything was by schedules
transport. And, of course, we would be walking as much as possible although, disappointingly, we didn’t do as much as we had hoped.
Vancouver was our first stop. We were only there for two nights giving us a chance to get a feel for the city, see some of the main sights, sample the cuisine and walk the Pacific sea wall trail of Stanley Park but not to explore the place in depth. Next stop was across the Strait of Georgia by one of the regular ferry services, provided by BC Ferries, joining Vancouver Island to the mainland of British Columbia. The island is about 350 miles from top to bottom and 60 miles across. The length is about the same distance as it is from southernmost point of the Scottish mainland near Stranraer to its most northerly point at John O’Groats. A big island. On landing in Nanaimo, a bus took us in pouring rain up the east coast of the island to the town of Campbell River. Whilst on the island took a sea trip to see whales and other sea mammals. It was way beyond our dreams with everything from Humpbacks to Bald Eagles to Black Bears.
After six nights, we boarded a ferry at Port Hardy near the north end of the island. This took us
northwards up the Inside Passage, a sea route that weaves between the coast of British Columbia and the off-shore Pacific islands. It was a long day of sailing – 17 hours – to the city of Prince Rupert in northwest British Columbia. After a couple of days there, yet another ferry took us up the coast of south east Alaska with a number of stops for two nights and three days to the capital city Juneau. It was there that we encountered glaciers at close quarters. There had been some warnings that global warming has resulted in a less spectacular display than there was just a few years ago. Despite that the wow factor was high.
If any of you, my dear readers, have watched the recent BBC TV programme Wild Alaska Live, the base for that production, in the Tongass National Forest and the Mendenhall Glacier, featured heavily in each episode, and was where we spent a stunning day.
After three nights, we took a final ferry journey from Juneau to the town of Skagway near the northern end of this part of Alaska. In its day, Skagway was the entry point to the Klondike in the days of gold mining. The main attraction today is the heritage train that took us nearly 100 miles over the mountains to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory. There was dramatic mountain and river spectacles and time spent in high tundra with empty country and stunted trees.
Throughout the trip, we saw an amazing array of wildlife. Our knowledge of the animal kingdom is fairly
rudimentary so there were lots of other oooh’s and aaah’s, without necessarily a lot of specific species identification. We couldn’t help but recognise the magnificent humpback whales and a variety of seals and porpoises. In the sky there were seagulls, terns, bald eagles and ravens. And on land we saw black bears, red squirrels, porcupines and various deer. And, of course, we saw literally millions of trees, the most common being the Sitka Spruce which typically is 50 to 60 metres high (nearly 200 feet). We were
there in their Spring, so there were plenty of flowers and tree blossom. One of the most common plants was the blue lupin.