The Complete Guide To: Canadian journeys

This huge northern country features high on most travellers' 'trip of a lifetime' lists. From bird-watching to Arctic exploring, Harriet O'Brien shows how to make that dream a reality


AN ENORMOUS LITTLE COUNTRY?

Indeed - oxymoron notwithstanding. Physically, Canada is the second biggest country in the world, after Russia. But in another respect this nation is a minnow: its population of 30.5 million is barely half that of the UK. Consequently, there's a vast amount of space to move around in - huge swathes of forest, enormous prairies, mountains, endless lakes and stupendous rivers, as well as quantities of outlying islands that are often overlooked in view of the sheer scale of all the other options. And three seaboards: the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic.

COAST TO COAST TO COAST?

We'll get to the Arctic later, but the "Sea to shining sea" celebrated in the Canadian national anthem refers to the journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific - quite possibly along the Trans Canada Highway, the world's longest road through a single country. (The Pan-American Highway, which crosses the Trans Canada at Winnipeg, is substantially longer but crosses a dozen countries). The Trans Canada runs 7,821km across almost the entire width of Canada - from Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia in the west to St John's in Newfoundland in the east. 'Highway' is perhaps an overblown description for parts of it: although busy areas have at least four lanes, in isolated stretches the road slims down to just two carriageways, with ferry links near either end of the journey.

In theory, you could hire a motorhome and drive from one end to the other taking your own accommodation with you. In practice, the one-way drop-off charges by rental companies make the cost prohibitive. It is not implausibly expensive to cover a substantial chunk, however: All America Holidays (08703 800 004; www.allamerica-canada.com), for example, offers a three-week package for a motorhome holiday, picking up the vehicle in Toronto in the east and dropping it off in Vancouver in the west.

The basic price of £1,600 per person (based on two sharing) includes charter flights from Gatwick to Toronto and back from Vancouver; one night in a Toronto hotel and 20 days' motorhome rental in a vehicle sleeping two adults and two children and equipped with bedding and cooking utensils; mileage of 100km per day - although more can be prepaid; vehicle insurance; and a one-way drop off charge (which, incidentally, is £905).

Other companies offering motorhome holidays include 1st Class Holidays (0845 644 3545; www.1stclassholidays.com) and Canadian Affair (020-7616 9184; www1.canadianaffair.com).

For a cleaner, greener alternative take the train - and enjoy fabulous views of lakes, prairies and mountains. Great Rail Journeys (01904 521940; www.greatrail.com) organises escorted rail travel across Canada. Its 17-day epic package takes in a four-day journey aboard the Canadian from Toronto to Jasper in the Rockies; and a 1,000km trip (in daylight) through the Rockies to Vancouver on the sublime Rocky Mountaineer.

In addition to the rail travel the holiday also includes tours of Toronto and the Niagara Falls at the start, three nights in the Banff National Park in the middle, and trips around Vancouver and Vancouver Island at the end. The cost of £3,350 per person covers flights from London to Toronto and back from Vancouver, accommodation in hotels and trains, all travel and the services of a tour manager.

IF I CHOSE A SINGLE PROVINCE?

It would probably be British Columbia. You could spend weeks, if not months, travelling round the western province. Its scenery is wild and spectacular, its wildlife big and abundant - from whales and sea lions to bears, both black and grizzly. Getting around can be fun and exhilarating on a combination of trains, seaplanes, boats and more. For example, you could fly by seaplane on West Coast Air (001 604 606 6888; www.westcoastair.com) from Vancouver to the provincial capital, Victoria on Vancouver Island, then travel the length of the island by bus on Island Coach Lines (001 250 388 5248) or rental car to Port Hardy at the northern tip.

This is the departure point for the Queen of the North ferry (BC Ferries: 001 250 386 3431; www.bcferries.com). This makes a 15-hour voyage threading through islands and along glorious coastline to the port town of Prince Rupert. Along the way you may see at least some seals and possibly bald eagles, whales and porpoises. From the somewhat bleak town of Prince Rupert you catch the VIA Rail Skeena service which takes two days (with an overnight stop at Prince George) to chug to Jasper in the heart of the Rockies just across the border with Alberta; for enquiries from the UK contact 1st Rail on 0845 644 3553; www.1strail.com.

You can fix up the elements yourself, or contact a Canada specialist such as Experience Holidays (0845 230 2131; www.experienceholidays.co.uk), which offers individually tailored programmes. The cost of the three to four day trip would be in the region of £500 per person, depending on standard of accommodation (and, of course, excluding international flights).

For more of a wildlife fix, Naturetrek (01962 733051; www.naturetrek.co.uk) offers a whale- and bear-watching journey around British Columbia. The 16-day tour takes in orca and grey whale-watching from Vancouver Island and the Pacific Rim National Park. You then travel to Campbell River from where a seaplane takes you to remote Knight Inlet, backed by snow-capped peaks, hills and waterfalls. Here you stay in a floating lodge and make excursions to see grizzly bears catching salmon in the wild and to spot seals, bald eagles and possibly a whale. The next departure isn't until 2006 but will cost in the region of £4,695 including flights from London to Vancouver and back, road and seaplane transfers, accommodation in hotels, motels and the floating lodge, wildlife guiding and most meals.

SOME EASTERN EXPLOITS?

*The east holds huge variety, from vibrant cities (clean and prosperous Toronto; funky, edgy Montreal) to expansive lakes and rivers and the rugged world of the Atlantic provinces. One of the most spectacular journeys in this vast region is a trip around Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula. Between May and October whales can be seen midway along, at Tadoussac Bay, while both Parc de la Gaspesie (this is French-speaking Canada) and Forillon National Park at the north east tip are home to deer, caribou and moose.

Tailor Made Travel (0845 456 8006; www.tailor-made.co.uk) offers self-drive holidays in the area. For example, during August a 14-night tour starting and ending in Montreal and taking in romantic Quebec City, whale watching, picturesque fishing villages and a stunning bird sanctuary costs from £799 per person including auberge accommodation and compact car hire (international flights are extra).

To take to the water The Independent Traveller (01628 522772; www.independenttraveller.com) provides the opportunity to enjoy an atmospheric cruise along the St Lawrence, travelling in a replica steamship and exploring the sites of early French settlers. The company (which has no connection with this publication) suggests a two-week itinerary that includes a week aboard the Canadian Empress between Kingston and Quebec City and a railway journey on the Ocean train to Halifax in Nova Scotia. The holiday costs from £1,829 per person including flights from London to Toronto and back from Halifax; accommodation and travel in Canada.

For more adventure on the trail of French traders and explorers, Trek America (0870 444 8735; www.trekamerica.co.uk) offers a 14-night "Canadian Pioneer" camping trip - although technically some of the holiday takes place across the border in the US. You fly to New York and proceed by "adventure vehicle" via the Finger Lakes and Niagara Falls to Toronto. From there you progress to the Ontario wilderness of Algonquin Park, which you canoe through. The itinerary then takes in Ottawa and Montreal, followed by a river trip along the St Lawrence to Quebec City, from where you return, via New England, to New York. Departures between now and September cost from £644, which includes local transport, camping fees and equipment and the services of a tour leader; transatlantic flights are extra.

The weather-beaten coasts of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador present extraordinary visual drama, with the added probability of seeing icebergs and whales reasonably close to the shores during the spring and summer. Frontier Travel (020-8776 8709; www.frontier-travel.co.uk) arranges tailored trips in the area using the myriad ferry services that link the isolated villages here. Accommodation options are limited in Newfoundland and can be fairly eccentric, which is all part of the charm of travel in this region.

Meantime, Windows on the Wild ((020-8742 8299; www.gofishingworldwide.co.uk) offers a slightly more formal package exploring Labrador's southern coast and the northern peninsula of Newfoundland. The 19-day trip costs £3,600 per person including international flights, road and water transport, accommodation and meals.

A MOUNTAIN JOURNEY?

From the hot springs of Banff to the spectacular vistas of Icefields Parkway and the towering rock walls of the Fraser Canyon, a self-drive tour is an excellent way to see the Rockies. Lakes and Mountains Holidays (01329 844405; www.lakes-mountains.co.uk), for instance, arranges eight-day trips, complete with car and hotel bookings, between Calgary and Vancouver. During August the cost is £490 per person (based on two sharing) for seven nights' accommodation variously in Banff, Jasper, Sun Peaks and Vancouver, and hire of a mid-size car - international flights are extra.

There are, of course, many other ways to travel through the Rockies. Frontier Travel (see above) offers a host of possibilities from two-day train journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer to horseback "wilderness tenting" tours. Of these perhaps the most intriguing is a female-only "Frontier Women" trip retracing the footsteps of pioneer women through remote parts of the Banff National Park. The riding and camping tour is for six days followed by a day's pampering at the Fairmont Banff Spring Willow Stream spa. The cost is £585 including tent accommodation, meals and a spa treatment but excluding international flights, for departure on 7 September.

A REALLY WILD TRIP?

The Yukon and the Northwest Territories straddle the Arctic Circle. They offer the opportunity to travel through almost untouched wilderness, while the far-flung towns and settlements of these provinces retain an air of frontier outpost. Experience Holidays (see above) offers one-week self-drive tours of the Yukon starting and ending in the capital Whitehorse and taking in parts of the Klondike Highway in the former Gold Rush area and the spectacular Top of the World Highway into Alaska. The price from £670 per person includes six nights' hotel accommodation and hire of a mid-size car but excludes flights to and from Whitehorse.

For a closer encounter with the wilderness, Windows on the Wild (see above) arranges 10-day rafting expeditions during August. These take place along the Nahanni River, which flows through the Mackenzie Mountains in the borderlands between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The trip starts at the Virginia Falls - almost twice the height of Niagara. You carry your equipment past these amazing rapids, then raft through deep canyons and past the hills and bush land of the Nahanni National Park, designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. The price from £2,720 per person includes international flights to and from Edmonton, transfers, accommodation (in hotels at the beginning and end and otherwise in tents), rafts, safety gear, meals on the river and guide.

ANYTHING MORE EXTREME?

For an even more adventurous trip, head to the extreme north and Canada's Arctic Islands. It is feasible to kayak here only for a couple of months of the year, July and August, during which you can expect almost endless summer days. With its icebergs and fjords, the scenery of the archipelago is breathtaking, while the wildlife is stunning: the area is home to walrus, seal, arctic fox, musk ox, polar bear and a great host of birds.

Wildlife Worldwide (020-8667 9158; www.wildlifeworldwide.com) offers 10-day guided kayaking trips around Ellesmere Island - the precise route depends on tides, wind and ice - with a few days at either end for travel to this very remote region. The high cost of travel to and from this wilderness whacks up the price of what is effectively a camping holiday, albeit in a jaw-dropping destination. The cost of £5,395 per person includes scheduled flights to Ottawa, onward charter flights to Resolute Bay and another (three-hour) flight to the drop-off point, hotel accommodation at the start and end of the trip, guiding and all expedition meals. The last departure this year is 4 August.

THE ULTIMATE CANADIAN JOURNEY?

A voyage along the Northwest Passage takes some beating: this is true adventure in the wake of heroic explorers. The search for the Northwest Passage is the stuff of legend. In the 16th century the quest began for a sea route from Europe to the Orient via the north-west, the aim being to avoid areas exposed to Spanish or Portuguese attack. For more than 300 years it was the ultimate challenge for explorers, many of whom died in the maze of islands and ice north of what is now mainland Canada.

One of the most poignant disasters was that of British naval officer Sir John Franklin, who disappeared with 132 men in 1845. Later, search parties concluded that their ships had been crushed by ice. It was the charts made by these search parties that ultimately led to the discovery of a viable route, with the first successful navigation being made in 1906 by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen (who later beat Scott to the South Pole).

Today, almost exactly 160 years after Franklin's demise, you can experience part of the route on a 10-day trip with Peregrine Adventures (01635 872300; www.peregrineadventures.co.uk). The expedition proper starts above the Arctic Circle at Resolute on Cornwallis Island, where you board a 6,450-tonne expedition vessel. Your subsequent journey allows huge scope for bird-, whale- and polar bear-watching as you progress via Baffin Island to Greenland from where a charter plane takes you back to Ottawa. Departures are on 2 and 22 August; the holiday costs from £2,990 per person including accommodation and voyage activities. Air Canada (0871 220 1111; www.aircanada.ca) and Zoom Airlines (0870 240 0055; www.flyzoom.com) both fly from the UK to Ottawa.

CAN YOU BEAR IT?

In October and November, the town of Churchill in Manitoba becomes polar bear capital of the world as these huge creatures wander through and near this far-flung town on their migration route to winter hunting grounds on the ice floes of Hudson Bay.

Among its new programmes this year, Explore (0870 333 4001; www.explore.co.uk) has a six-night trip to the ursine territory, with three nights spent aboard a tundra buggy lodge - mobile accommodation complete with beds, lounge and dining car - to maximize bear-spotting opportunities.

The trip also includes the opportunity to go dog sledding and to explore the old fur trading post of Winnipeg.

Prices are from £2,599 per person including flights from London to Winnipeg, coach travel to Churchill, all accommodation and most meals.

WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE?

Visit the website of the Canadian Tourism Commission, www.travelcanada.ca, or call the premium-rate number 0906 871 5000.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice