5 important things to know when doing a season in Banff.

Housing / Work / Discounts & Freebees / Banff Ambassador / Leaving Banff

I did a heap of research after deciding on Banff as the base for my 2 year Canadian working holiday visa.

We travelled in the States and Eastern & Western Canada for a couple of months before arriving in Banff in September ready for our first Winter season.

Come June of the following year we left Banff and drove across the country to St John’s, spent a month in the UK and drove back to Banff ready for our second Winter in September 2017.

So all in all we have spent close to 20 months living in Banff in total, I must say it feels a lot longer than that.

There isn’t a town on Earth, even my own hometown of Dunedin, or London, that I feel I know as much about. This is partly due to working on a hotel front desk and having to know and advise guests, but also because I wanted to cram as much in to these last 20 months that I possibly could.

Living in Banff isn’t easy, whether you are fresh out of collage and on your first big overseas trip or, like me, you are a bit older, have travelled and lived in multiple countries and have been on good money. It’s hard for everyone.

So for people looking to make this beautiful piece of the world their home, I offer the following advice;

1. Housing

Finding a home in Banff isn’t an easy feat, or so I’ve been told.  We only looked at about 4 houses before finding one so it was very easy for us. The second time around we got right back into the same house. Easy peesy.

But, a lot of people are forced to stay at hostels and even hotels for months on end while trying to secure a place to live.  Arriving at the right time of year definitely helps. Late May to June is good because a lot of the Winter seasonaires leave, and equally, September to late October due to the Summer workers departing. 

Most workplaces offer staff accommodation at great rates, they have to, being in a National Park, Banff has very limited housing and new buildings rarely go up, if they do it’s because something else has been torn down. Staff accommodation is great but if you are arriving as a couple and work at different places it won’t work. Most staff accom is for a single person, in either a shared bedroom or an apartment shared with a colleague.

For couples, you’ll need to go private and there are a lot of options, just not a lot of rooms.

Don’t be fooled into going to a real estate agent looking for a place, they will probably laugh in your face. Most accommodation is either owned by a local or rented by a local and sublet to travellers.

The best places to look are on the Facebook page, Bow Valley Home Finders or Kijiji which is Canada’s Craigslist or Gumtree. Also knowing the right people helps and word of mouth goes a long way.

We got our room through a couple we noticed were replying to the same adverts on Facebook as we were. We teamed up and tried to help them find a room and vice versa, in the end we ended up living with them and made lifelong friends.

2. Work

There is tonnes of work in Banff, absolutely tonnes, if you arrive at the right time.

As each season starts, help wanted signs appear in all the store and restaurant windows and this is a great way to find work. Make sure you have a lot of hard copy resumes and get walking.

I work in recruitment and tried to get a role doing that but unfortunately the well paid, non-hospitality jobs go to locals. Early on I made the mistake of applying for professional roles I could do standing on my head but they probably knew I would expect too much money or roles that only locals would get due to visa restrictions. I understand this because I know the cost of the recruitment cycle and to hire someone who will only leave to travel after a few months is not productive for any company.

So I had to go back to my roots and get something in hospitality. I didn’t want to do serving as I had done that for years and didn’t want to constantly work nights. I didn’t think it would look good on my resume either. 12 Years of corporate recruitment work to only go back to what I’d done 15 years earlier. No.

Also suffering a broken arm only a year ago I didn’t want to be lifting heavy trays all night.

But serving is actually where the big money is in Banff. Tips are huge and depending on where you work can be a lot, lot more than your wages.  I know people who worked 3-4 nights a week, did 5 hours shifts and made twice as much as I do.

It’s different here in Canada as well. The host seats you and gives you your menu then the server takes your order, the runner brings you your meal and the server gives you the bill. Back in Australia, when I worked in restaurants, I did all of that and barely made $10 a night in tips! And that is working in a fine dining restaurant! Yes, if you want to make money in Banff, work in a restaurant.Anyhoo, I ended up working at the Front Desk of a hotel in town, I love it and I get commission for ski rental, selling tours and the occasional tips. It pays the bills, enables me to ski 3-4 times a week and also save a bit of money.

My boyfriend managed to get gardening work during the few months there wasn’t snow covering the ground and labouring work during Winter and he was on great money.

Again Kijiji is a great place to look and also the Banff Resource Centre is a great help.

I know resumes, I look at them all day but I still had to tweak mine a lot for Canada. The resource centre will help you to understand how to do this and what employers are looking for.

Additional to this, most large companies such as the Fairmont, Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Caribou Properties have job fairs at the beginning of each season. Go to their websites; see what’s available and pop along. Meeting you face-to-face is a great start and a lot of people get jobs this way.

3. Discounts and Freebees

As a Banff local, you get treated rather well. Yes, it’s an expensive place to live but the town knows that and looks after the dedicated people who choose to live here.

Many retail outlets and restaurants will offer you a ‘locals discount’ and you will get to know these places in time and only shop there.

Banff Food Rescue is a godsend for people who are struggling and those who want to help the community. Alanna Pettigrew, the founder, started just before we arrived and her and her team of volunteers now give out free food to over 50 people a night. They collect food from local stores that cannot be given to the food banks and give it out to anyone who lines up at her door. It’s perfectly fine and their motto is ‘keeps good Food from becoming Food Waste’, Just amazing!

Snowtips/Backtrax, a rental place in town was voted the locals favourite and give great discounts on ski & bike rental and purchases for locals.A lot of places offer discounts if you have a seasons pass for the ski hills, this is all on the Big 3 website, take advantage.

Discover Banff Tours offer a big discount to locals on their tours, 45% I believe.

The Taxi Mike website and brochure is the locals bible. Taxi Mike provides an up to date list of all food and drink offers all week, all season. Save it to your favourites and grab a brochure, you will refer to it the whole time you are here, believe me!

Nesters is a place you will frequent a lot. It’s a supermarket in town and they offer a points card that is actually very good. Each time you visit you get points which accumulate and can then be used to buy groceries. Get one as soon as you arrive in town!

If you are lucky enough to work on the front desk of a hotel, you’ll also be offered FAM tours, I’ve been skiing, snowmobiling, ice walking, snowshoeing and horse riding, all for free!

4. Banff Ambassador

I touched on this in a previous post but it’s a MUST do when you first get to Banff!

1. Go to the library, upstairs in the conference room, you don’t need to book, just turn up. Here, you’ll sit down with a bunch of other newbies for an interesting talk from the Discover Banff Tours representatives about the town, history, housing, wildlife, jobs and other fun stuff for an hour.

2.You get a discounted Discover Banff and its Wildlife 3 hour tour to some of Banff’s hotspots, learn a heap and have lots of fun.3.You then get a discount card, valid for a year with over $500 worth of discounts. This includes Canoeing at Lake Louise (worth $105), gondola tickets, hot spring tickets an heaps of other cool stuff.

They do this so you are all set to advise on tours and attractions, whatever your job may be. It’s a fantastic introduction to Banff and you’ll met some fab people along the way.

4. Leave Banff sometimes

When you arrive, you’ll think ‘I’m never leaving this place!’, well I did anyway.

But it’s important to leave once and a while. You will get into a little bubble of work, home, partying and the places you frequent with your mates and it’s easy to get into a routine. That’s what you came here to get away from though.

There are so many amazing places to visit not too far away.During the ski season do a road-trip to Fernie, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Panorama or Marmot Basin.  They are all amazing ski hills and quaint little towns with heaps to offer. You can get a discount with your Big 3 Pass or buy cheap tickets on kijiji. Have a look before you go, I never paid full price for ski tickets!

Calgary is also only 1.5 hours away and loads of big bands go there. I saw Kings of Leon, The Arkells and Frank Turner at the Saddledome. And don’t forget Hockey, you HAVE to go and see a few games, it’s so amazing!If you are a gambler, take the free shuttle to the Stoney Nakoda Casino, loose all your tips or go to the $30 Lobster & Steak buffet. Yum!

When you arrive back in Banff you are thankful, you feel like you are returning from a great mini holiday into another. Life is great. Until work starts!

Two more groups you need to join on Facebook are Banff Buy and Sell, everyone buys and sells their stuff on here! And Banff Lost and Found, Banff is the town of disappearing jackets, phones and keys. If you loose of find something, join this group!

So, that’s it. Come to Banff, have an amazing time, live your dreams and make lifelong friends.The writing below used to be written on the wall of the ladies toilets in Mels before it was painted over and I think whoever wrote it is spot on.

‘Banff Life is a good life, never forget this place’

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Sunshine Meadows – Fall Hiking

The first time I visited a ski resort in summer was when I was about 13 and my Mum, my cousin and I went up to Coronet Peak in Queenstown, NZ for a walk. It was hot and dry and I wore a vest top and a mini skirt. (Hey, it was the 90s!) I remember the main building being open but apart from hiking there wasn’t much more to do apart from enjoy the views over Lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables.The next time was Whistler Blackcomb in 2016. This time the mountain was geared up for the Summer with mountain biking trails, hiking, the Peak to Peak gondola, lots of restaurants and bars and concerts going on all the time. I admit Whistler is a much bigger resort but I think ski resorts these days offer much more in the way of Summer activities.This week Fergus, our flatmate Kurt and I visited Sunshine Meadows. After skiing all season at Sunshine Village, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to visit the ski area in the off season. It was the beginning of Fall when we visited so there was plenty of snow covering the ground but the trails were mainly snow free and we were able to enjoy the Autumn colours and warmth on the last open day of the hiking season.

Upon arrival, we bought our discounted tickets (due to having a season pass last ski season) for the shuttle bus and Standish chair from guest services. We got on the old yellow school bus along with a swarm of tourists and started up the ski out to the main village.

Travelling up the ski out in a bus made it look a lot steeper than it looks and feels when skiing down it at high speeds after a long day on the slopes. It was also a lot bumpier and at some points I was concerned the old bus would burst a tyre or stop altogether and slide back down the mountain. It was an enjoyable ride despite this and it was great to be up high and look down onto the Black Middle and Lower Canyon runs and of course see the waterfalls and mountain streams, without snow cover.

We hopped on Standish chair which felt a bit odd without skis strapped to our feet but it was great to be heading up the familiar slope again, seeing the ski area to the left of us and the mountain ranges in front of us stretching out as far as the eye could see. It was a tad chilly going up but once at the top the wind died down as we headed out towards the Standish Viewing Deck. This is a large wooden deck situated on the ridge about 400 metres from the top of the Standish chair, the view from the deck is just incredible. You lookout over the whole of Sunshine Meadows, including Rock Isle, Laryx and Grizzly lakes, Simpson River Valley, various mountain ranges and peaks including the impressive Monarch and famous Mount Assiniboine. To the left, the Angel and Divide chairs rise up Lookout mountain with their empty chairs dangling, waiting for the Winter crowds. Its just breathtaking.We quickly started to descend the steep and slippery trail down to Twin Cairns Junction to avoid the crowds, most tourists are not used to walking in snow and we were just as bad, Fergus and Kurt wore Vans, not so good in the snow, I had my North Face Hiking boots on but still managed to slip over onto my knees at one point but that’s just incoordination on my part I think. The view over the Valleys below The Monarch were very autumnal indeed, the oranges and yellows of the Larch trees and the dark green of the evergreens contrasted with the bright white snow covering the ground.We arrived at Rock Isle Junction and carried onto the Grizzly/Laryx Loop trail. En route we passed the beautiful Rock Isle Lake, the most well known and largest Lake at Sunshine Meadows. The lake gets its name from the rocky island in the centre of it where a few trees call home. Behind the Lake, Lookout mountain towered above the meadows and you could clearly see the Divide chair and most of the runs coming off it. They looked much steeper from way down in the valley. Some of the mountain was covered in snow but it was patchy and hard to imaging opening day is only a month and a half away.We carried on down the hill to Grizzly Lake where we were happy to find a few hikers enjoying their lunch. We hadn’t seen anyone for a while and arriving at a lake named after the most feared animal in the Rockies we were a little relieved to see people. Grizzly lake was a different colour than Rock Isle. Rock Isle is bluer and is more out in the open whereas Grizzly is quite sheltered by steep banks and forest. On the far side and head of the lake you could see where the recent forest fires had burnt away the trees in huge areas. The Verdant Creek fire had come very close to the ski resort and during the Summer the lodge was used as a base for the firefighters who were working on fighting the huge fire.Continuing past the lake the trail rose up onto a cliff face and we came upon Simpson Viewpoint. This lookout was probable the highlight of the day for me, the huge Simpson River Valley spreads out before you far into the distance, the different shades of greens in the hills, cliffs and mountains make the valley look even deeper and I was sure I could see all the way to Radium. The most interesting yet sad feature of the valley was the amount of burnt forest there was on both sides of the valley. I’m so glad we had some snow recently so the fires were able to be put out and we were able to visit Sunshine Meadows, it was closed for hiking for a lot of the summer.We walked down the hill to Laryx Lake, the 3rd lake in the Meadows. We were able to walk almost the entire way around Laryx on the stony trail, across narrow log bridges and over the grassy plains. Laryx was quite calm and was sheltered from the wind so we were able to see the reflections of the surrounding mountain peaks in its shallow water which was beautiful. Sat down for a bit and watched a young Chipmunk scurry about looking for dropped food.After a short rest we climbed back up to Rock Isle Lake and at Rock Isle Junction we turned onto the Village to Lake Trail and headed up towards Divide Chair and the runs that come off Stawberry. After stopping at the Rock Isle viewpoint we continued down the path beside the Rock Isle Road green run back to the village. It was nice to actually walk along a ski run we had all been down many times. Being back at the Village when there was no snow was odd, we saw stairs that are usually buried under the snow and paths, roads and signposts that are not normally there, the place looked quite different. Waited for the shuttle bus for around 30 minutes before being informed it had broken down on the way up so we were driven back to the base in a small van. 

It was a great but tiring day and I’m glad I got to experience it before we leave Canada. 

 

 

Ottawa – Sault Ste Marie

Tonight we saw Moose! Moose! We saw 2 Moose in fact, 2 Moose with big antlers like you see in the photos! Amazing!

As you know in previous posts I have, until now, thought Moose were a myth, like the Moa in NZ or the Jump Bear in Australia, they are a made up beasts to scare tourists. (I didn’t really think this but was wondering why the hell we hadn’t seen one yet) Especially in Newfoundland, a small island with some 250,000 Moose, people were saying ‘oh you’ll surely see a Moose up there’, well no, we didn’t. 

We did however see 2 Moose about 5 minutes out of Sault Ste Marie, on the side of the motorway. One was awkwardly walking down the verge towards the road and the other standing proudly atop it looking out into the distance. It would have made a great photo but we were past them in such a flash. They were big but not as big as some of the road signs suggest, I don’t doubt that they do get huge, big enough to total a car in fact but these 2 were probably young males, they could have done plenty of damage had we hit them though! They were beautiful,  dark brown with impressive furry antlers. We were very lucky the weather had cleared as most of the journey had been heavy rain, that is a recipe for disaster! 

As we came across the animals, a big 1500L Ute was passing us so we couldn’t even change lanes to try to avoid them. Luckily Fergus was quick thinking and slowed down as he saw them then sped up as we passed so they would have plenty of time to get onto the road if in fact that’s where they wanted to go. Apparently they are a bit silly and just wander about anywhere. You just have to be so careful.We saw in our rear view mirrors that they had made it onto the road so the traffic had to stop. What a shame we were not a little slower, I could have had a great shot of them, instead I have a pic off the net, it’s kind of what happened.I’m so glad we can now add Moose to the list of animals we have seen. For me, Grizzly Bears and Orcas are the ones I most want to see. Where are the Orcas?

That evening we went to Boston Pizza for a late dinner before staying at another very busy Walmart car park. Yaaay Moose!

Day 5 – Deer Lake to Port aux Basques

I made breakfast again and served it to Fergus in bed, again. Lucky boy! It was a cold morning but the clouds were clearing and I had been told it was going to be a nice day by the campsite lady. We entered Gros Morne National Park around 10am and it was quite a stunning drive in. The road twisted and turned up and down through heavily forested high valleys and beside dark blue lakes and small coastal townships before turning onto the West coast and heading North where it was flat until the landscape dramatically turned to high sided glacial tablelands.   

Our first stop was Western Brook Pond which is a huge fiord like formation with a lake at the base. It’s basically a fiord that doesn’t make it out to sea. The cliffs above the lake are taller that the CN tower in Toronto in parts and it’s a magnificent sight from the motorway. You walk 45 minutes from the car park through forested paths and boardwalks over boggy ponds to get to the boatlaunch and cafe beside the lake. There is a boat cruise but it was $60 each, unfortunately too expensive for us this time. We had a look around the souvineer shop and cafe and surrounding area before walking back to the car. I was a bit dissappoimted with Western Brook Pond really, when you Google the images of it you are met with people overlooking the lake from up high not photos of the boatlaunch which is on the opposite end of the fiord! I assumed this would be the place we would see but that is a 8 hour long hike from another part of the park. Gutted!Carried on up the coast to Shallow Bay which my Lonely Planet described as ‘seems out of place as if transported from the Carribean’, but annoyingly both the roads leading to the bay were on the map but didn’t actually exist….bugger.

We turned around, headed South again and stopped briefly at the wreck of the S.S Ethie a ship that ran ashore in 1919. There isn’t much you can see above the water but it’s a good photo spot and a nice pebbly beach. Drove around Lobster Cove where we visited a lighthouse briefly and looked for a lookout in Norris Point, another recommendation from the Lonely Planet we were unable to find. It was lovely seeing all the small bays as we headed inland and joined the motorway again via the blue waters of the East Arm and Lomond. Passed the ski hill again and followed the setting sun all the way to Port aux basques. Still didn’t see any Moose. There are no Moose in Canada, I’m sure of it! Had some dinner before lining up to get on the overnight Ferry. It was a quick boarding compared to our trip over to Newfoundland and by 10:30pm we were relaxed in front of the big TVs on board watching The Discouvery Channel. 

Day 4 – Fogo to Deer Lake

Woke up to a very dreary, rainy and windy morning, a total contrast to the day before which I was slightly relieved of as I had gotten a little sunburnt on our afternoon hike. Sorry Mum! 

I made breakfast on the stage to get away from the howling wind and to let Fergus sleep for a while longer before taking him his breakfast of egg, sausage & mushroom roll in bed. Stopped by the big church in Fogo (there were about 4 churches in town) to see the plaque high on the back wall dedicated to the Slade family. There was also a Slade tombstone in the nearby cemetary. One thing I did notice about the Island is the amount of churches and cemeteries. It seems there is a church for every denomination plus a cemetary! I’ve never seen so many in one small area of land!Visited the F.U Trading Co Museum in Seldom-Gone-By and went on a short tour run by a local teenager who worked there. A lady from London, ON we had chatted to earlier that morning at the campsite was also there. Her blankets had gotten wet due to the storm the previous night so she was using the dryer at the museum. They had a laundromat on site, odd I know! She joined our tour but kept asking loads of questions about why the Island’s fisheries were in decline and what could be done to make it thrive again. Learnt a bit of history about the shop before going onto the shop floor and managers office. Went for a coffee and a nosey around the ‘Museum of the Flat Earth‘, an interesting place with a weird and wonderful collection of Flat Earth bits and bobs including old photographs of the island’s Flat Earth society members and their membership certificates. 
Went for a takeaway lunch of Chicken Nuggets and chips at Vanessa’s Take out & convenience and headed down to the 2:00 ferry back to Newfoundland. Another very quick trip on a calm sea, thankfully the wind from earlier had disappeared. 

Headed back down the peninsula on the 331 which was full of potholes and made for a very bumpy and nervous trip. Passed coves, bays and small coastal towns containing multicoloured wooden houses, craft shops and roadside veggie stalls during which time the rain fell and large trucks passing sprayed a barrage of water onto our windscreen. 

Once back on the Trans Canada the potholes receded and we were able to make some leeway. Passed a big concert in progress in Grand Falls-Windsor and more roadworks dotted about the place.

Arrived in Deer Lake just outside of Gros Morne National Park and due to not having any accomodation booked we went to Tim Hortons to use the wifi, also had a cheeky burger. Fergus found a campground on the lake for $25 so we booked in there. 

On arrival at our lakeside site I wasn’t too happy, the internet was only available near the office and we were at least 15 minutes walk from there so no internet. Also, the one and only washroom/shower block was a 5 minute walk away. It doesn’t sound a lot but if you frequently go in the middle of the night like me you don’t want to be walking for 5 minutes in the cold, wet, pitch black night! 

Fogo Island – isolation at it’s best

We left St John’s and after topping up on supplies (food, petrol & water) we headed West towards the hilariously named coastal town of ‘Dildo’. Stopped briefly for a look around the town but there was nothing much there unfortunately, took some photos of the town sign before carrying on. Passed through Terra Nova NP where we had to wait repeatedly at roadworks which increased our journey by over an hour frustratingly, I was keeping my eye out for Moose the whole journey but they still managed to avoid my gaze. Listened to The Dreadnaughts, Cat Stevens, Billy Joel and Frank Turner, a bit of an eclectic mix of feelgood songs. Arrived at the small ferry terminal in Farewell around 5:20 and joined the queues of cars, RV’s and lorries waiting to board. The ferry left just after 6pm and after a look around the 3 decks we shared some chips, attempted a crossword and before we knew it we had arrived in Stag Harbour. Only an hours trip and relatively calm too.Drove 25 minutes to Fogo on the North Side of the Island and found the Brimstone Head RV park and after paying the very nice man $15 we settled in for the night. 

The RV park is located at Banks Cove, the impressive Brimstone Head towers above the cove on one side and on the other side is a smaller headland separating the cove from the next bay. There are showers, toilets, a stage, various snack bars (closed during our stay), a playground and the local Lions club at the top of the park. There is a festival held in the Park in mid August so I’d image all the extra amenities are here for that. It’s a beautiful spot.We watched an amazing sunset on the beach before having some dinner. It was great to be back cooking on our camping stove, I really enjoy it for some reason, I think it takes me back to my childhood and Mum cooking on her wee stove while tramping. Great memories. 

Day 2

Made scrambled egg and frankfurter rolls for breakfast before hiking up Brimstone Heads. The trail starts at the RV park and heads up into a grassy, boggy plain via a series boardwalks before you hit the steep stairs leading up the cliff. The views as you climb the headland are stunning and you can see bays, islands and sea for miles.Once up the stairs you walk over the moss covered rocks out to the very top of the headland where there is a large wooden viewing platform. Brimstone Heads is believed to be one of the corners of the world by the Flat Earth Society and when standing up there, looking out to the vast expanse of Iceberg Alley in the North Atlantic Ocean, I can see where they are coming from. We met some people from Southern Newfoundland up there and had a chat and took photos. Everyone we have met has been so friendly. The man who runs the RV park who’s wife may be a distant relative of Fergus, The French/Canadian man travelling around Newfoundland in his car with all the stickers who we also met on the Ferry back to NF, the lady from London, ON and her 2 dogs, who we met again at the Museaum who also reminds me of Lyn Cameron. They all asked about our accents and our trip and were happy to give us any travel advice and knowledge they had gained.

We then went to visit Bleak House Museam which is one of the original homes on the Island. It was built for the Slade family who ran a shipping company in the area. The Slades are distant relatives of Fergus’s. We had a guided tour of the house from a local lad with a strange accent. I also asked him a lot of questions about the Island and growing up on it. From what I gather most people graduate high school, go away to university and never return. Quite sad. We wandered through the old house following the tour guide while he told us about the rooms and their contents, much of which was original. He was clearly reading from a memorised script, if we asked about anything outside of what was on the tour he was unsure, he was only about 20 I’d say but he did a good job.

We headed over to Tilting for a look around then on to Joe Batts Arm, another of the Island’s larger villages on the North side. It’s named after a crew member of Captain Cook and is now famous for its very modern and very expensive Inn. Not my cup of tea as it sticks out like a sore thumb but it has provided the town with lots of jobs so the locals are happy. 

On the entrance to the Joe Batts Point Trail we met a lovely local lady who came out to get her little fluffy white dog that had run out to greet us. We spoke for quite a while about life on the island and our travels before heading off on the stony path towards the point. The trail meanders along the coast past vege patches, ponds, geological dig sites, little bays, streams and at one point a huge black box of an artists residence. These are common on the island and have been popular for tourists and artists alike. We saw 3 on our travels around. They are all modern, boxy and all accessed by walking trail. 

We passed a little green hut and over the next ridge we found the trail end and the large, green, iron bird sculpture that marks the end. Lay on the large flat rocks below the sculpture and had a rest. It was a very muggy day and we were both wearing jeans so had sweated a lot and we were hungry. The return journey didn’t feel as long and we were lucky to see the local heard of Caribou grazing. They were smaller that I thought they would be, a lot smaller that Elk but they may have been young males. They didn’t seem too bothered by us and it was nice to add another animal to our list, we hadn’t seen any Caribou as they don’t live in Banff NP.Returned to the camp for dinner of noodles, fried spam, mushrooms, boiled egg and spring onions. Watched another stunning sunset before retiring to bed to watch a movie. 

Return journey – Day 1 – London to St John’s

The month in London flew by. At times it didn’t but when we arrived back at Gatwick  Airport after saying goodbye to Fergus’s Mum Alison at Croyden train station it seemed as if it were only yesterday we arrived. I guess any trip home seems short when you have been away so long. 

After the obligatory breakfast of Eggs Benedict at the Wetherspoons and a bit of shopping in the North Terminal we boarded our Westjet flight an hour and a half late.The flight was fine except for a 10 minute bout of what the stewardess described as ‘moderate turbulence’. During this time I was on the verge of tears/heart attack and gripping the seat as if my life depended on it, I even yelped aloud at one point, everyone around me wasn’t bothered in the slightest.  Pussy….

We landed in St John’s just after 1pm, luckily we had no trouble at immigration and got a cab straight to Ben & Philippa’s. A key was left in the letterbox for us but Ockre (their dog) barked and growled every time we tried to openthe door, afraid of getting eaten alive on our very first day back in Canada we dumped our bags at the back door and headed into town for some lunch. Double pussy….Found a street full of bars in town and went to a pub called Green Sleeves, had a couple of pints and a burger each. They were lovely burgers but the bill came to $80! For a pub lunch! We had forgotten how expensive Canada was so were a little shocked, in London you could get the same for £15 in Wetherspoons. 

Wandered down to Eastern Edge Gallery where Philippa is the Director and got a ride home with her. Freshened up and repacked our bags and enjoyed an afternoon beer on their patio.  

Walked up and down the steep roads into town and went to The Gypsy Tea Room and had a bite to eat. Set in a large, open courtyard, this restaurant is just so cute, with its white buildings, trees, outdoor bar and lights I felt like I was back in South Africa enjoying wine in a Franschhoek Winery. Fergus and I shared Chicken Wings and fries and had a glass of Chardonnay. Chatted about Weddings, babies, house prices, life in Canada compared to London, our trip and lots of other stuff. They are such a lovely couple and it was great to spend more time with them. If we  do manage to get PR and stay in Canada I’d love to come and visit again. St John’s is a beautiful place. Went for a drink at The Black Sheep where it was Jazz jam night, saw some really talented musicians, especially Philippa’s friend who played the Banjo and sang. St John’s has a healthy music scene and a lot of people follow local bands which is really great. The music scene is so important in any town and I’ve always been a big supporter of local bands as my father was a misition for over 40 years. Big thanks to Ben and Philippa. Even though they are so far away it’s comforting knowing you have good friends from the UK living in the same country. They have been so good to us and we thoroughly enjoyed our 2 very short trips to St John’s. I hope we can return someday. 

Day 28 – St John’s to London

Walked with Philippa in the morning to The Roomswhich is a Museam and archives facility overlooking the city.

Fergus wanted to ask about some family who had ties to the shipping trade in Newfoundland and Poole. Found out his family once owned a very large shipping company who had their headquarters on an island called Fogo, we plan to visit the island on our way back to Banff. There is more information about the company Here. Took some photos of the view and carried on into town.Wandered the streets of St John’s looking at souvineer and craft shops and viewing the massive ships moored in the docks. It’s a very busy and lively city, smaller that I’d expected it to be but very pretty, just like a small fishing village just on a larger scale. Met up with Ben for lunch and he took us to a funky little cafe called Rocket Bakery where we had a chicken burrito each. It was a nice place, quite hipster and lots of  city types and young families enjoying speciality coffee and slightly overpriced food. Fergus and I headed through town to walk up Signal Hill which is  St. John’s most popular landmark. It offers coastal hikes and sweeping views overlooking the Atlantic and is the site of St. John’s harbour defences.We did the North Head Trail which is the oldest and most popular of the trails on Signal Hill. It follows a trail along the narrows to the North Head. 

The trail started off relatively easy, walked around the hills on steps and boardwalks, lots of runners passed us and we passed others going at a more leisurely pace. Stopped to look at Whales a couple of times and watch a ship entering the harbour. The trail winded around the cliffs and at one point the path was so narrow a chain was attached to the rock face for safety, the stairs climbed up to the point where the track dissappared and you could wander around the rocks.We walked around the point and as we did the wind died down and the heat really increased. Watched more whales off the point before climbing a huge staircase to the top of the hill. It was tough going!I went up Cabot Tower, the fortification on the top of the hill where the  final battle of the Seven Years’ War in North America was fought in 1762 in which the French surrendered St. John’s to a British force. Walked back down the trail on the opposite side of the hill towards Quidi Vidi, a small cove with a brewery. That path was not as steep but still had great views of the ocean before descending into forest where Bald Eagles nest and then onto the cute little cove.There wasn’t a bar at the brewery and I didn’t really want to do a tour so went to a very quirky pub called Inn of Olde. It is a funny place, stuff is all over the walks and roof, number plates, hockey sticks, newspaper clippings, Christmas decorations, you name it. I’ll definately return there when we come back to St John’s as I hear it’s quite a lovely place. Just had one beer before the long walk back to the house.once back at the house we packed up the stuff we wanted to take and the stuff we wanted to leave in Canada and cleaned and organised the car. 

We then had a lovely dinner with Ben and Philippa of Salmon, sausages, salad, chips and pasta salad. It was such a nice meal and had a good chat while enjoying an Old Fashioned. Caught a cab to the airport at 9:45 and flew out around midnight. 

Bye bye Canada!

Day 27 – Channel Port aux Basques to St John’s

Our penultimate day started very early. I woke at 5:30 and went up on deck to get some shots of the sunrise over Newfoundland. The boat was very quiet except for staff and a few passengers stirring from their slumber or going for morning coffee.The ferry docked and we headed down to our car and disembarked around 7:30 and headed to Tim Hortons for breakfast and wi-fi. Started our journey around 8:15 and headed out onto the last leg of the Trans Canada highway.Almost immediately the landscape was beautiful. It was very different to Nova Scotia surprisingly. Newfoundland is like Central Otago whereas Nova Scotia is more like Southland. (only makes sence if you are familiar with New Zealand)

The hills were larger, not quite mountains but definately higher and a lot rockier. Large parts of the flatter areas were rocky too and in amongst the rocks was forest, shrubs and small lakes. Perfect environment for Moose I’ve been told. 

Did we see any? No! Nada! Nothing! Ziltch! Saw some amazing cloud formations over the hills and got some cool shots from the car despite the dirty windowscreen laden with the bodies of dead bugs who got in our path. The weather was cloudy but looked like it was going to clear. It didn’t.Stopped a couple of hours outside St John’s so Fergus could sleep before carrying on into rain and mist. It seemed to take forever to actually get over all the winding hills into the city but finding Ben and Philippa’s house was easy.They live in a 2 bed house in an area not too far from town. They are renovating the bathroom and have already changed the house dramatically from what they said. It’s a lovely wee place with a fresh maritime feel and lots of artwork and sculpture around. 

Had a few beers and a BBQ with Ben and chatted to Philippa when she arrived home.

Day 26 – Sydney to Port aux Basques

Slept in again and made bacon butties for breakfast….again. Wandered into central Sydney to find the library so I could print out my boarding passes for my return flight to Canada should I have any issues on my arrival at Gatwick. It was closed on Mondays, typical of a small town and very annoying. Walked along the boardwalk beside the inlet to the Big Fiddle, I’m not sure why Sydney has a big fiddle, I guess it’s due to the Celtic culture of the island but the town doesn’t offer much else so why not build a ‘big thing’ to attract people? It has been done many times before in other towns around the globe.Spoke to a lovely lady in a gift shop beside the information centre and Fergus bought some soap, out of guilt for being in there so long chatting to her I think. I don’t think many people visited the store so we were happy to chat. 

Wandered through town which was not the nicest, yet another high street with boarded up shops, restaurants with nobody in them and office buildings, ruined due to cheaper chain supermarkets and fast food restaurants built on the outskirts of town. We had seen a lot of this in small town Canada.

Headed back to our Air B&B house. Our host, Will had gone to work so didn’t get to say goodbye, he was a very nice chap. Grabbed our gear and headed up towards North Sydney. Left Sydney at 2pm and our ferry didn’t leave until 11:45pm so we had hours to fill in. Drove the coast route past small villages, inlets and small lakes. Stopped briefly for a walk around Petersfield Provincial Park. Walked along the stony beach and through forest for about an hour and a half. Carried on to North Sydney and printed out my boarding passes and ferry ticket at the library, visited the information centre and Tim Hortons to use the wi-fi.

Drove up the coast to waste time and as we were going through Sydney Mines we could see some sort of concrete structure out on the point. We had already noticed some battlements on the cliffs below us so got as close as we could to it and parked the car.

Walked down to the large structure which turned out to be part of the Chapel Point Battery Site. The main building was 4 stories high but you weren’t able to get above the ground floor which was just a series of graffitied, littered, dark rooms. A few meters from it, towards the cliff edge were 2 identical gun battlements and you could see where a gun of some sort once sat. The rails it would have sat upon were still there and there were various rooms and cubbies around it i’m guessing were used to store ammunition and other defensive material.There was one more area that was a large, very dark room that had steps from both ends leading to a lower level and then a second pair of staircases leading down to what looked like a door or doorway to another room. It was pitch black down there and even though I really wanted to go down the steps to investigate, I didn’t and chickened out. I will always wonder what is down that dark, dirty staircase….Decided to go to the ferry terminal and check in and leave the car in the queue while we went to get dinner. The man in the kiosk took the printout of our tickets, cave us real tickets and told us to go in row 9. There were about 15 rows full of cars, campervans, lorries and motorbikes all waiting patiently to board the huge ferry.Went to a local pizza shop and ordered a pizza and garlic bread and ate slowly while chatting and trying to pass the time. Sat in the terminal for a while, I bought a travel pillow then sat in the car for the last hour and a half. 

It didn’t take us long to get on the ferry once boarding began, we boarded from the back and parked on the 3rd level, right at the front. Went and got a comfy seat in front of 3 large tv screens on level 8. It wasn’t overly busy, a few seats were taken but most people slept on the carpet between the seats, although the safety video had mentioned this was frowned upon, I guess they do the journey often.It took at least an hour to actually start moving and by then it was dark so I could only watch the lights of North Sydney pass as we left the inlet when I ventured up onto the sun deck. Watched a bit of The History Channel and the News before heading off the sleep.