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A Hidden Gem – Johnson Lake, Banff

The best places are always the ones that only the locals know about. Those secret spots that allow you to connect with a location at your own pace without a crowded tour bus in sight!

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Johnson Lake is one of those local’s spots that is just a 15 minute drive from Downtown Banff. Tucked away down a 3km paved access road, Johnson Lake is often overlooked by its more accessible neighbours – Two Jacks Lake and Lake Minnewanka.

Beyond its 360 degree mountain vistas, Johnson Lake is popular amongst the locals for the diversity of outdoor activities it supports in all seasons!

Winter Snowshoeing & Skating

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When the snow settles, the 2.5km circular walk around the lake makes for some ideal snowshoeing.

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With a relatively gentle gradient and minimal elevation gain the terrain is family friendly, while the views of Mt Cascade and Mt Rundle are spectacular!

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If skating is more your thing, the frozen lake offers some excellent free ice skating! Just check out how thick the ice is first though!

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Spring Hiking

When the snow melts the circular trial makes for an excellent and easy short hike. You can even bring your dog (must be kept on a lead). Note mountain biking is prohibited.

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You can show your true local’s knowledge by hunting for the Hermit of Inglismaldieè’s Lodge. Billy Carver built the cabin in 1910, living as a recluse for 27 years! There are no signs so it is a true treasure hunt! Hint: it’s on the south side of the lake!

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Summer Swimming

Of all the lakes in Banff National Park, Johnson is the warmest for swimming, and our favourite “sport” of floating. However, be warned that even the locals turn up in their hundreds on a warm summer’s day so best to arrive early or ride your bike!

The summer also makes for some epic sunsets!

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Fall Paddling

The changing colors of the trees make Johnson Lake an idyllic time to visit with your kayak, canoe or paddleboard in Fall!

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Whatever the season, join the locals and plan a trip to Johnson  Lake to capture a taste of Banff National Park!

Fall in Banff National Park

A picture story where Fall colours meet mountains, lakes and the onset of Winter in Banff National Park.

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Mt Rundle reflecting in the calm waters of Two Jacks Lake.

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Snow-dusted trees along the banks of the Bow River.

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Golden larches above Moraine Lake in the Larch Valley.

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Looking at Lake Minnewanka through the eyes of Fall.

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The view from Highway 1 as you drive through the park.

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Magical sunset over Johnson Lake.

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The view of the Three Sisters from the park’s east gate.

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The changing Fall colours at Sunshine Meadows.

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Winter trying to take hold at Vermillion Lakes…

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And on Mt Rundle

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And then finally succeeding.

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Welcome winter to Banff National Park – thank you for a WonderFall journey!

Welcome to the OC…..

Convinced that my wife Helena’s surprise 30th birthday long weekend vacation was a gambling trip Las Vegas, she was super happy to see an Orange County sign as we headed south from LAX airport. This excitement was driven by her love of Seth, Summer, Ryan, Sandy, Julie and Caleb from the hit TV series aptly named the OC!

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Accommodation – The Balboa Bay Resort

The OC is known as one of California’s more affluent areas, and so we decided given it was Helena’s birthday to treat ourselves and check into the exclusive Balboa Bay Resort after being attracted by the blue skies and waterfront location on their website.

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On check in Paul realized he should have maybe done his research a little better on what to pack. The Resort’s welcome guide stipulated that a dinner jacket was required for evening reservations in the Resort’s First Cabin Restaurant. With only a suitcase containing flip flops, board shorts and surf t-shirts our hopes of a steak dinner in our sailing club home for the night were dashed!

After checking in, we went for a walk and soon discovered super yacht after super yacht adorning the hotel’s southern edge; a true boat lovers paradise!

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The centre of the Resort had a lovely swimming pool, surrounded by sun loungers and waiting staff who were keen to serve you whatever drink you fancied!

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On the walk to back to our room we passed the Wall of Fame, which showed some the Resort’s more distinguished guests including former US Presidents such as Nixon and Hollywood A-listers including Jack Nicklaus…..although we were disappointed to find that Sandy Cohen had not stayed there!

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The Resort also had its own private beach and another pool which were for use by residents of the complex, but could be used by guests ….discreetly.

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Our room was a fairy tale with exquisite furniture and without doubt the most comfortable bed we have ever slept in (the mattress alone was about 3ft thick!)

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The Resort also had a great Spa which Helena thoroughly enjoyed, while the patio breakfast (no jacket needed) overlooking the water in the morning sunshine was also exceptional!

Restaurant – The Rusty Pelican

With our initial restaurant plans scuppered, we adopted the let’s walk and just find something approach! After scouring the area for about 30 minutes we were unable to find the diner that Ryan, Seth, Marissa and Summer frequently visited, so we decided upon the Rusty Pelican which was incredibly busy inside!

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After a short wait we managed to negotiate a table in the upstairs bar area, and ended up a cosy corner booth overlooking the harbor. The service was lively and fun, the fresh fish exceptional, the wine flowing and the views of the harbor terrific!

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Newport Beach

Newport Beach town center was not what we had imagined. The expected high end wine bars and Gucci shops were non-existent. Instead they had been replaced by numerous cheap bars with young locals and tourists bar hopping from one loud music playing venue to another.

However, we headed down the beach a few hundred yards where peace and quiet was restored, and Paul tried to act out a scene from Baywatch (clearly no slow motion action shots required in this take).

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We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around trying to find some OC classic venues such as the pier, the Cohens’ house and the sailing club. We failed on all fronts. It was at this point, we actually found out from a quick check on Wikipedia that the show OC was filmed at Redondo Beach, very little of the OC was actually filmed in Orange County! #Scandal

Huntington Beach

A few miles north of Newport Beach lies Huntington Beach, which claims to be the home of California surfing, This town was altogether different and had a very relaxed vibe, with market stalls selling homemade necklaces and small booths selling fish and chips. It is the place that Hollister have a live video feed from in their stores if you ever visit.

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Top Driving Tip

We would suggest hiring a SATNAV if you are driving – you definitely need one to get to the OC, or drive anywhere in LA for that fact. To get to the OC from LAX Airport be prepared to drive on Freeways which are up to 8 lanes wide in each direction (16 in total). An alternative is to fly to Anaheim (John Wayne) Airport for a shorter drive!

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24 hours in Mumbai

Why Visit?

A trip to India is not complete without visiting the country’s capital of cool, where “cosmopolitan” feels a little too straitjacket to describe the pulse this city beats to. With over 18 million residents, the hustle and noise are relentless. The car horns provide a constant backdrop to the energy that is exhibited from those who are just trying to survive to those who are displaying cutting edge western brands.

Getting to and from the Airport

You are always at your most vulnerable when you first arrive in a new location. Never wanting to rely on the security that a highly overpriced hotel car will cost you for a man with sign with your name on it at Arrivals, we would recommend getting a prepaid taxi. The booth can be found just inside the main arrivals hall, and a trip into Colaba (the main tourist spot) will set you back around 750 rupees plus another 55 rupees for the new bridge toll. Don’t be concerned that the luggage loaded on the poor excuse for a roof rack will at some point join the highway floor – a combination of physics and good luck will keep it there. The 25 km trip will take somewhere between 1 hour (bad traffic), 1.5 hours (very bad traffic) or 2 hours (normal traffic). Prepare your ears for the constant horns, your eyes for last minute weaving and a will for peace of mind.

Where to stay?

There are many options in Mumbai from cheap guest houses to luxury hotels. For us, there was only 1 choice – the historic and legendary Taj Mahal Palace. Steeped in tradition, this phoenix has risen from the ashes following the horrific terror attacks in 2008. With all visible scars removed and the security significantly heightened the hotel has been restored to the splendor of the colonial age. The magnificent architecture is only matched by service levels we have never experienced before. From check in to check out, no staff member can do enough to make you feel like a visiting member of the British Royal Family. The rooms are exquisite, the food divine and the price tag reasonable if you stay outside of peak season (December to February).

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Walking Tour

The good news is the must-see sites of Mumbai can be viewed through a good walk. Starting at the historic Gate of India, where the British departed India in 1946, you can take some great photos of the Taj Mahal Palace. There are obviously the usual touts, tourist tack sellers and everyone else you can think of trying to claim some of your dollars. Unless interested, just say no and walk on.

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Next stop is the Prince of Wales Museum (locally now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya), which offers some wonderful colonial architecture. Carrying on heading up the road through the bazaars and financial district to the Victoria Terminal (aka Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), the largest train station in Asia and a World Heritage site. Take a peek inside and try to avoid being carried away by a sea of people in a hurry.

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Turning back you can take a walk to the Rajabai Clock, which is set inside the University grounds. Following the 2008 attacks you cannot enter the grounds, but the impressive views can be seen from the nearby park where you can also enjoy watching several cricket matches at any hour of the day. Watch out for flying balls!

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Head back to Colaba Causeway and indulge in some shopping, but make sure you haggle. Electric Bombay, FabIndia and Good Earth offer air conditioned options if looking for fashion, local attire and handicrafts.

Where to eat

For lunches, Indigo Deli offers an upmarket deli option with Perrier water to suit. Cafe Mondegar provides a more down to earth offering with hundreds of options from around the world.

We chose to dine on the rooftop at Indigo, and the food matched our elevated position. Local seafood meeting Indian spices made for a mouth-watering combination. We went for a local Indian wine, Sula, which served as our bottle of choice for the rest of our trip (we quickly worked out drinking imported wines would bankrupt us).

Leopolds is a legendary post dinner watering hole, perfectly captured in the book Shantaram, which is a must visit even if you wait 30 minutes for a drink!

Watch out for

December to February are considered the coolest months in Mumbai, but with that brings the bigger crowds and higher prices. We chose to visit in late March and we started to feel the heat rise to a bearable high 30s, with significant humidity. We were warned to avoid the months of June and July when near 100% humidity and high 40s heat can drive many to the edge in a city that is often already there.

Crossing the road is like riding a roller-coaster– thrills, adrenaline, fear, surprise and relief. Our best approach was to cross with a few locals to create a large mass for drivers to swerve around.

It’s hard not to stand out like a walking dollar sign, and for that many will want to talk to you. Wear a money belt, and say no while on the move. Most will give up at this point. Avoid anything that sounds too good to be true – you can only be scammed if you are greedy (quote from Hustle).

Go for It

Go in with your eyes and heart open, and you will leave Mumbai feeling exhausted, overwhelmed but alive with the energy and vibrancy you have just been a part of.

Shuswap Lake – Houseboating

Having lived in Canada for nearly 3 years, we have learned the hard way that Canadians take their Summer long weekends very seriously and plan significantly ahead of time. With memories of long ferry waits, unavailable camp grounds and fully booked cabins we decided to get ahead of the game and booked up our Summer long weekends in March!

Inspired by the BC Tourism’s 100 BC moments website, we soon identified houseboating as a must do activity for the September 2013 long weekend, and selected a 54ft Mirage boat (named Natalie’s Arc) with capacity for 14 people from Waterways.

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Why should you go houseboating on the Shuswap Lake?

– Shuswap Lake is a stunning setting, with pristine remote forest surrounding its 4 arms, which offer the explorer great adventure. The lake is huge and so you often feel like you have the whole place to yourself. Unlike the neighbouring Okanagan Lake to the south, there is very little development around the Shuswap shoreline which creates an unspoilt and tranquil environment in which to relax. The weather in the Shuswap region is very reliable in Summer, with predominately sunny weather and an average temperature in the high 20s.

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– Having your own houseboat gives you the freedom to explore the Shuswap Lake, while having many home comforts such as showers, washrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, TVs and even a fireplace.

-Houseboats also have a number of “fun” features including a large hot tub and their own slide in which to enter the warm Shuswap waters in style! The lake is also very calm and flat which offers excellent floating and swimming opportunities.

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– In the evening you are required to “park” your houseboat on the beach, which allows for a good campfire and some traditional Canadian s’mores. Luckily our crew included a member of the British army who literally produced fire with some twigs!

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– We also discovered that folks are super friendly on the lake, with our new found friends Tyler and Nick taking us out on their speed boat for a spin (the houseboat has a max speed of 6 knots). They even generously allowed one of the crew to resume her waterskiing career…after 4 attempts!

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– If you want to party hard, you can. Nielson Beach has an infamous reputation as the place where houseboats are turned into night clubs, glow stick raves are common and new “friends” are made! Not wanting to have random intoxicated twenty somethings invading our vessels, we chose to party with just our crew under the Northern Lights to some classic 90s tunes on a more low key beach!

– If you run out of vital supplies such as Bread, Milk or beer there is a handy floating shop in the middle of the lake!floating store

Things to watch out for

– Renting a houseboat is a big financial responsibility with full payment required by Waterways 60 days before departure. We paid $3200 for our boat for 3 days, 2 nights including insurance and taxes. In addition a $2500 security deposit was required on arrival, and there are add ons such as fuel (we used $180 worth in 3 days), gas for cooking ($20), wood ($7.50 per bundle) and ice ($4 a bag). If you choose to take on the organizing, make sure you bring a credit card and invite creditworthy friends who don’t have a record of breaking boats!

– On arriving at the houseboat base camp it takes just over an hour to get going as there are numerous administration hurdles to overcome. Captain and Co-Captain have to sign a lot of forms,  sit through a very dull and technical 30 minute orientation video with an instructor who has a questionable choice in sunglasses, as well as complete a boat inventory check.

– Houseboats are very slow, while some speed boats on the lake can reach insane speeds of 100kph. Keep your wits about you and try to stay out of their way! Unfortunately, accidents do happen!

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– The first big “sailing” challenge is navigating the “channel” from the Waterways base to the lake. Firstly you need to remember to call in to get permission to enter the channel to avoid a large fine, and secondly you need to steer a houseboat down a narrow busy strait and under 2 bridges before making a sharp left hand turn to avoid beaching the houseboat on a sandbar! For larger boats we heard horror stories of them losing a whole top floor deck by getting their turn wrong as they went under the bridge! Better hope they paid the extra $40 a day for insurance!

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– One afternoon, some members of Team Fun needed a dramatic speed boat rescue after floating 200m away from the houseboat thanks to the wind and too much wine. After that we attached the floats to a rope tied to the houseboat to avoid losing anyone!

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– Although our boat advertised it slept 14, it really only slept 10. Three of the double rooms had ceilings no higher than 2ft, but provided you drink enough this presents no problem until you bounce up the next morning and forget where you are! Ouch!

Channel 2 is  an “alternative,” somewhat blue communication medium which all houseboat crews can use to speak with one another. All we can say is keep young children away from the radio late at night as the calls become X rated!

Top Tips

– The houseboating companies recommend booking your summer vacation a year in advance. This is not pure marketing as we managed to book the 2nd to last boat for the September Long Weekend at the end of March!

– Take twice as much wine / beer / mixers as you think you will need…houseboating is thirsty but enjoyable work.

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Houseboating was without doubt the best weekend of summer – great sunny weather, pristine warm lake waters to swim in and our own exploration vessel on which to share good times with our friends…..houseboating on the idyllic Shuswap Lake comes highly recommend!

 

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Skimoon @ Big White

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After our beautiful winter wedding in Whistler, we decided to head the 2nd largest ski resort in British Columbia for a “ski-moon” in mid-February.

Big White is about a 5 to 6 hour drive from Vancouver, which by Canadian standards is a trip to the shops.  However, having taken on the “Coq” in winter before and lost with a cracked wind shield, and having fear further instilled in us by watching “Highway through Hell,” we decided to take the safety first approach and fly on Westjet the 450 km to Kelowna International Airport in a rapid 33 minutes!

We then jumped on an official Big White minibus for a short 50 minute transfer to the highest mountain of the Okanagan Highlands. Our driver Harry was extremely friendly and informative and before we had arrived we knew everything we needed to know about Kelowna real estate, skiing techniques, Aussies and the best bars in Big White!

Reasons to pay a visit to Big White:

  • Okanagan Champagne Powder! You have to ski it to believe it but the snow is fresh, light and fluffy which makes skiing effortless and very enjoyable!
  • No ice as temperatures stay below zero (well it did during our visit anyway) as the Village is located at 1750m, which is over 1000m higher than Whistler Village.
  • The terrain at Big White is great for beginners and intermediates like us with over 70% of the 118 runs being green or blue.
  • Daily “Slow Zones” that make it easy for beginners and those who don’t like crowds and want a run to themselves.
  • A genuinely ski in, ski out set up, plus bars, restaurants and supermarkets centrally located in one village which you easily navigate on foot  or using the free village gondola.
  • Big White markets itself as knowing what skiers want, and from our observations we could see that most apartments had private hot tubs, a great way to relax with a beverage after a hard day bashing pow!
  • Big White is very family orientated as evidenced by the 100s of kids we felt like we looked after on the ski lifts on behalf of the stressed out instructors / child minders. Every afternoon and evening the resort puts on a family friendly event such as a bonfire and free hot chocolate. There is also a large ice skating rink as well as an impressive tubing area. Obviously being 32 Paul was far too old to go on the ice climbing tower (nothing to do with fear then!)

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Top insider tips

  • Big White is heavily populated by Aussies, so learn the local lingo, which is basically involves using “no worries” at the start of every sentence. To really fit in grow a beard, don’t cut your hair and swig beer like it is water!
  • Unlike a lot other ski resorts we have visited Big White offers flexible lessons – just show up at 10am or 1pm with a valid ski lesson voucher, choose your group and off you go! If the head is a little sore form the night before, “no worries” – start your lesson in the afternoon instead!
  • On our 3rd day we quickly understood why sometimes this ski Resort is referred to as the “Big White Out” as we could not see the ground from our 4th floor balcony. In these conditions head over to the Black Forest where the mist seems to go missing and the tree lined runs make navigation significantly easier!
  • We tried a couple of restaurants and were definitely not disappointed. The baby back ribs at the Bull Wheel come highly recommended, while the Kettle Valley offered some fine premium steaks (the long wait for them was worth it!)
  • If you want to spoil yourself, we highly recommend Stonegate 3 (specifically room 405) as a place to crash. The condo was fitted to a high spec, had an amazing view over the valley from the hot tub and even had an xbox!
  • If you want to get to know the mountain better, snow hosts are available to take you on a complimentary guided mountain tour at 10.30am every morning from the village centre, just look out for the yellow jackets.
  • If you want a massage book in advance, with just two spas it can be hard to get a “drop in” appointment even on a weekday at 9am!
  • Look out for special deals – we booked before November 30th and got a night’s accommodation and a day’s skiing free!

Overall, a fun family friendly ski resort with great powder and “no worries”

Hola, Guten Tag, Bonjour, 你好, こんにちは, Hello

We are Paul and Helena, a British couple from the New Forest and Bedford respectively. Paul’s love of travelling took him to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and much of South East Asia in his 20s. Meanwhile, Helena worked, travelled and studied in all sorts of glamorous (and not so glamorous) locations around the world – she went to law school in Wisconsin, worked as a janitor and a tour boat driver in Banff, helped out at a surf and yoga retreat in Maui in return for reduced accommodation and surf lessons and worked at a ski school in New Zealand.

After a shared love of travel, cheesy music and alcopops (we were both students, after all!) brought us together, we continued to travel as a couple, including trips to Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brazil, India and Mexico. Finally, our search for higher mountains to hike and deeper powder to ski brought us to Western Canada, where we have been lucky enough to call North Vancouver, Whistler and now Banff our home.

We decided to start this blog to share our Canadian adventures, providing local travel tips and stories with readers who might find them interesting or useful. We hope that you enjoy it!

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