Veron­ica Mathe­son is cap­ti­vated by a scenic jour­ney on the Rocky Moun­taineer

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Canada & Alaska -

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.rock­y­moun­

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

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