MOVED BY A VIEW
Veronica Matheson is captivated by a scenic journey on the Rocky Mountaineer
NOW I know how Alice felt in Wonderland. I have fallen into a surreal picture-postcard world, drifting through a landscape of snowcapped peaks scraping a baby-blue sky, sparkling lakes, sun-polished glaciers and geometrically aligned fir trees.
I want to stay here forever, gently rocked by the rattle-and-roll rhythm of the sleek Rocky Mountaineer as it carries me through British Columbia in armchair luxury at what the crew describes as Kodak speed: a dead slow 50km/h for stunning scenery (80km/h when the landscape is a tad dull).
This two-day, 1470km ride from Vancouver to Calgary is lauded as the ‘‘ most spectacular train trip in the world’’. I have seen chocolatebox images of the Rockies but they are no match for the reality.
Vancouver, Canada’s Pacific gateway, is to our west as we head through toothy mountains and fertile plains to the awesome Rockies, and into Alberta and its panoramic heartland.
Early in the ride, my trigger finger is stuck in overdrive snapping the breathtaking landscape. But now I am saturated with scenery and ready to stop in my obsessive tracks, for while pictures may enhance the vistas, they only scratch the enticing surface. This is a journey during which passengers bond, enjoying the friendly service of the crew. There is an overnight stay at the comfortable and clean Thompson Hotel in the historic fur-trading post of Kamloops. The hotel has free internet access, which is much in demand before a buffet dinner and wild west revue that paints a lively portrait of the area’s pioneer days.
Next morning we rise at dawn and rush back to the Rocky Mountaineer for a second day of scenic thrills. But, first, breakfast in the downstairs compartment of our double-decker carriage, where we go no further than the signature dish of scrambled eggs and freshly poached salmon. Lunch is another silver-service array of regional specialities, including slowroasted Alberta bison, presented at tables dressed with crisp white linen.
Back up the spiral staircase, we settle in comfy aircraft-style chintz recliner seats with padded arms and headrests. The onboard commentary tracks our route along the transcontinental rail line and train attendants make sure we do not miss a family of bears: mother, father and restless cub. The sighting is so brief that we are still arguing over whether they were grizzly or black bears when we spot an old man elk under a canopy of fir trees.
Minutes later we spy a loose moose grazing beside the moody Thompson River where fearless sockeye salmon battle their way up fastflowing waters to spawning grounds in the Adams River. As the ride continues, our eyes become finely attuned to the landscape. Bald eagles circle overhead, goats strut over shaky rocks, bighorn sheep appear and an osprey repairs her giant nest perched precariously atop an electricity pole near the Fraser River.
Such scenery is challenging to explore on foot, but from the viewing dome of luxury GoldClass, the huge picture windows and glass ceiling involve us in a fleeting romance with nature.
RedClass passengers have fewer luxuries (no glass-wrapped ceiling) and no double-decker carriage, but those same spectacular views scroll past picture windows.
We cross deep ravines and rapids via a series of impressive bridges, slip around lakes and over gorges with memorable names such as Jaws of Death, Hell’s Gates and Avalanche Corner, into the Rockies through the engineering marvel of the Spiral Tunnels.
Many passengers leave the train at Banff to stay at the renowned Fairmont Hotel and go on to Lake Louise, but we ride for a few extra hours to Calgary. It is July, when the annual Stampede festival brings prairie cowboys to town to master bucking horses and bulls in a wildwestern fling.
But even these Rocky legends with big belts and bruising bravado are no match for western Canada’s scenic wonderland.
Two-day (daylight ride) from Vancouver to Banff-Calgary (or vice versa) with overnight stay in Kamloops from $C639 ($703) a person twin-share RedLeaf or $C1439 GoldLeaf. Fraser Discovery Route: Newer two-day, alldaylight ride from Vancouver to Jasper (or vice versa) with overnight stay in Quesnel from $C639 a person twin-share RedLeaf, and $C1439 GoldLeaf. Add 3 per cent tax to all fares. Whistler Mountaineer: From Vancouver to Whistler (or vice versa) takes 31/ hours, from $C105 a person Coast Classic or $C175 Glacier Dome, plus 6 per cent tax. Rocky Mountaineer Vacations has other rail and self-drive packages with accommodation. More: (02) 9319 6624 or 1300 300 713. www.aptms.com.au www.rockymountaineer.com
Right track: Canada’s most famous train links Vancouver with Calgary, main picture; GoldClass carriages feature glass ceilings, top right; spot wildlife along the way, bottom right