This tour includes the gentile beauty of Vancouver Island, a spectacular railway journey through the Canadian Rockies, the fertile prairies of western Canada right though to frontier farming in the pristine wilderness areas of the Yukon Territory and Alaska.
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Depart Australia for Vancouver (Canada) with connection to a direct flight to Victoria on Vancouver Island. If you prefer, you can leave a day or two earlier and rest up in Victoria - or Vancouver - before the main group arrives.
Thanks to crossing the international dateline, our watches and smartphones will be telling us we have arrived in Canada almost before we left Australia.
At around 500 km long and 100 km wide, Vancouver Island offers a wide and fantastic range of sights and activities including the world renowned Butchart Gardens. The island is also home to a thriving agricultural industry which benefits from a maritime climate of warm, dry summers, mild and wet winters and a long frost-free season. There is a wide range of farming including field crops, berries, tree fruits, dairy products, pigs, sheep, poultry, floriculture and ornamental crops.
We take advantage of our "extra hours" by visiting the magnificent Bouchart Gardens before checking in to our Victoria hotel. We enjoy an informal welcome reception before turning in for a well earned rest after a big day.
Guided touring around Victoria and nearby attractions, including a farm visit, before returning to Victoria and a free evening.
This morning we board our coach and travel north along the spectacular eastern coastline of the island – our destination is Campbell River, 280 km to the northwest of Victoria. Along the way we will enjoy a farm visit and will drop in on some must see Vancouver Island sights such as the beautiful harbour city of Nanaimo.
Campbell River is one of the best places in Canada to view bears - and in September when the salmon are running, there is no better time to view the bears gorging themselves on fish before their oncoming hibernation over a long winter.
We board our covered vessels, and embark on an unforgettable journey along the beautiful British Columbia coastline towards The Toba Inlet. Along the way, keep your eyes open and cameras ready for a vast array of wildlife including whales, seals, sealions, dolphins and eagles to name a few of the species in the area.
Upon arriving at the head of the Toba Inlet, we are greeted by our Klahoose First Nations Guides. We then travel by road up through the Toba Valley to viewing platforms along the spectacular Klite River. Here you see the salmon returning to spawn, filling every pool. This allows the grizzlies to gorge on fresh fish for several months in preparation hibernation. We will spend time quietly observing the mighty grizzly in their natural habitat. Other wildlife in the area includes elk, deer, wolves, cougars, black bear and many birds.
We then board our chartered float plane for a spectacular flight and water-landing arrival into downtown Vancouver.
We are transferred to our downtown hotel.
This morning we enjoy a guided city tour to help get our bearings then a meeting with a Canadian grain trading company before heading into the fertile and picturesque Fraser River valley. We will visit some farms and enjoy lunch at a family-run local produce outlet. Return to Vancouver for a free evening.
We transfer to the train station this morning to board The Rocky Mountaineer for Banff – one of the great train journeys of the world. We are eastbound for Kamloops, our overnight stop. We will see dramatic changes in scenery today, from the lush green fields and farmlands of the Fraser Valley, through forests and winding river canyons surrounded by the peaks of the Coast and Cascade Mountains, to the desert-like environment of the British Colombia interior.
Highlights include the rushing waters of Hell’s Gate in the Fraser Canyon and the steep slopes and rock sheds along the Thompson River.
We overnight in the historic town of Kamloops where the North and South Thompson rivers meet.
This morning we board the Rocky Mountaineer again to continue our journey eastward bound for Canada’s stunning Rocky Mountains. Once again we will see a spectacular array of scenery as we travel across ranchlands, along rocky lakeshores, over high mountain passes and through the remarkable tunnels that form part of the rich rail history of the Canadian Rockies.
Today’s highlights include Craigellachie, where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven, the climb over Rogers Pass, Kicking Horse Canyon, the Spiral Tunnels and, of course, the glaciers and snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Our rail journey ends this evening in Banff where we are met and tranferred to our hotel.
This morning we visit the nearby and majestic Moraine Lake and afterwards, the equally majestic Lake Louise to drink in its incomparable beauty. We also enjoy a very special high tea in the luxurious Fairview room of the Fairmont Chateau. There's time for a paddle on Lake Louise, or whatever else floats your boat, before returning to Banff for some free time.
An option this afternoon is an unforgettable 30 minutes chopper flight over the Mt Assiniboine Glacier region. The flights depart from Canmore, around 15 minutes east of Banff. Dubbed the ‘Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies’ Mt Assiniboine rises majestically to 3611 metres along the Great Divide. The surrounding valleys, glaciers and icefalls are astounding.
This evening we take a spectacular gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain, overlooking Banff, where we will enjoy dinner.
Today we board our charter coach and travel north. We are travelling the lcefields Parkway – one of the most spectacular drives in the world. This is a wilderness habitat for elk, big horn sheep, moose, mountain goats and bear. Waterfalls, emerald lakes, alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks complete the scene as we wind along the shoulder of the Continental Divide. The Columbia Icefield covers nearly 325 square km. Melt water from the icefield feeds rivers emptying into three different oceans: North to the Arctic; East to the Atlantic; and, West to the Pacific.
We visit the Colombia Icefield Discovery Centre and travel by specially adapted vehicles onto the glacier.
We continue onto Rocky Mountain House – nestled on the eastern foothills of the Rockies and the edge of the Great Plains – for overnight.
With our Canadian farm specialist on board, we set out from Rocky Mountain House this morning to meet with farmers and ranchers typical of the region. Over the next few days we will visit highly successful farming operations and most of them in the middle of their winter and spring crop harvests. We will also visit a Hutterite colony where very traditional lifestyles belie the sophistication of their large scale farming operations.
Our general route takes us from Rocky Mountain House, through to Red Deer and south to Calgary for overnight and a free evening.
Time to saddle up and head south this morning into even more magnificent farming and grazing country. We visit a farm and feedlot in the area as well as call into a unique exhibit – one of the world's oldest, largest and best preserved buffalo jumps.
This World Heritage listed site, and quaintly named, Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump bears witness to a method of hunting practiced by native people of the North American plains for nearly 6000 years.
This archaeological site preserves the remarkable history of the Plains People. Because of their excellent understanding of the regional topography and bison behaviour, the native people were able to hunt bison by stampeding them over a cliff.
We enjoy lunch at the exhibit before continuing eastwards to Lethbridge for overnight.
Visits around Lethbridge before continuing on towards Medicine Hat and into the province of Saskatchewan calling into a farm along the way. Overnight in regional Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan is Canada's grain producing powerhouse and in most years, accounts for almost half of Canada's total wheat and canola production. We continue to the northeast and onto Saskatoon, the largest city in Saskatchewan straddling a bend in the South Saskatchewan River. Saskatoon has served as the cultural and economic hub of central Saskatchewan since its founding in 1882 as a Temperance colony.
Guided city tour this morning before a free afternoon and evening.
This morning we fly to Whitehorse the capital of Canada's Yukon Territory.
Successful farming in this region takes passion and hard work to produce high quality products. Cooperative equipment, new farming techniques and funding have helped improve the viability of farms.
The Yukon has a sub-arctic continental climate, with temperatures reaching as high as 30°C in the summer and as low as –50°C in the winter. The average frost-free period ranges from 93 to 21 days which varies substantially from year to year at any location.
Long hours of daylight during the summer promote rapid growth and compensate, to some extent, for the cooler summer temperatures. Adequate heat units are the largest environmental/agricultural constraint. Rainfall ranges from about 200 mm to more than 400 mm.
Overnight in Whitehorse.
On the outskirts of Whitehorse we meet with some canine friends (and their handlers). We learn how a sled dog team is trained and how the dogs are worked. We also visit the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center – a great introduction to the natural and cultural history of the region before continuing north along the Klondike Hwy towards Dawson City. Not far out of Whitehorse we visit some very intrepid grain and hay growers supplying produce for the local livestock and horse farms.
The Klondike Hwy loosely follows the original winter overland route to the Klondike goldfields, centred around Dawson City, and was first used in 1902.
This scenic drive offers views of the Tintina Trench (geological fault) which extends from the Northern Rocky Mountain Trench in British Columbia, Five Finger Rapids and many spectacular lakes. Keep an eye out for moose, black bear, elk, caribou, fox and other wildlife.
Late afternoon arrival into Dawson City, our home for the next two nights.
Dawson City was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1896 it was a quiet First Nations camp – two years later it was a thriving city of 40,000 people. By 1899, the gold rush had ended and the town’s population plummeted. The population dropped again after World War II when the Alaska Hwy bypassed it 480 km to the south.
The current official population is around 1400 but it is a well-serviced community with modern facilities. The history of the town is well preserved with its original architecture and ‘olde world’ businesses, including Diamond Toothed Gerties Gambling Hall! Today we visit some of the local attractions including a chance to try your luck at panning for gold. Then it’s a free afternoon and evening.
The Yukon has a grandeur and beauty only appreciated by experience. Few places on the planet have been so unchanged over the course of time. This morning we cross the Yukon River (by ferry) and travel the famous ‘Top of the World Highway’ where we have an international border crossing into Alaska.
We travel through magnificent valleys and open taiga forests and join the historic Taylor Hwy. This is a route through gold mining history. Communities such as Jack Wade and Chicken (originally named after Alaska’s state bird, the Ptarmigan, but early residents couldn’t spell it!), established almost overnight. Miners quickly wore a series of trails, later becoming the Taylor Hwy.
We pick up the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline as we continue on to Delta Junction. Just out of Delta Junction we call in on Wrigley Farms, a 1700 acre operation with the only commercial wheat and barley flour mill in Alaska.
This morning we will visit Delta Meat and Sausage – a family owned processing and farming business priding themselves on using only Alaskan grown produce.
We then continue south, along the Richardson Highway, to the Wasila/Palmer region – the salad and vegetable bowl of Alaska. This is a place where over summer, world record monster size vegetables grow in the 24-hour daylight and grass and grain crops grow through to harvest in less than 100 days.
We also visit a musk ox operation where we are introduced to these unique paleolithic ruminants.
Overnight in Wasilla.
This morning we board our coach and travel south for an hour or so to the state capital, Anchorage. With a population of over 300,000, Anchorage is home to around 40% of all Alaskans.
Due to its location – almost equidistant from New York City and Tokyo – Anchorage lies within 9.5 hours by air of nearly 90% of the industrialised world. For this reason, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is a common refueling stop for international cargo flights and home to a major FedEx hub.
We have a guided tour of the city this morning before a free afternoon and some time to do your own exploration of town.
A free day to take in Anchorage at your own pace or to do one of the many sight and flight-seeing tour options available such as bear viewing, fishing or a flight over Denali (formerly Mt McKinley, the highest peak in North America).
Farewell dinner this evening.
Transfer to the airport this morning for flights home today or you might choose to stay on in Alaska for a while.