CANADA FOR BEGIN­NERS

How to start plan­ning your first great north­ern ad­ven­ture

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - COVER STORY - ALISSA JENK­INS

SNOW-CAPPED PEAKS, IRI­DES­CENT BLUE LAKES AND A MENAGERIE OF NA­TIVE WILDLIFE – THE ROCK­IES DE­LIVER

With moun­tain vis­tas, world-class snow sports, cap­ti­vat­ing wildlife and cul­tural mix, Canada prom­ises no short­age of buck­etlist travel ex­pe­ri­ences. From British Columbia’s ruggedly hand­some West Coast, to the Rocky Moun­tains in Alberta, all the way through the in­te­rior’s windswept prairies, to French-in­fused Que­bec, and the his­toric east coast Mar­itimes, plus the im­pos­si­bly friendly peo­ple who call these places home – it’s the “It” coun­try of the mo­ment. The trick is know­ing where to start plan­ning your own Cana­dian ad­ven­ture and what to save for your next visit.

5 AMAZ­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCES EX­PLORE THE ROCKY MOUN­TAINS, ALBERTA

Jagged, snow-capped peaks, iri­des­cent blue lakes, and a menagerie of na­tive wildlife – the Rock­ies truly do de­liver Canada’s money shot. See vi­brant Lake Louise mir­ror­ing the glacier-sculpted moun­tains that sur­round in sum­mer, or ice skate across it in win­ter. Party in the ever-pop­u­lar ski re­sort town of Banff af­ter spend­ing a day hik­ing around frozen water­falls.

Or ven­ture north to Jasper, where the crowds are fewer and land­scape wilder, keep­ing watch for bears, elk, moose, cari­bou and chip­munks.

HIT THE SLOPES IN WHISTLER, BC

With two award-win­ning moun­tains, more than 3235ha of ter­rain on each, a record-break­ing gon­dola, and re­li­ably deep snow, Whistler Black­comb earns its crown as North Amer­ica’s num­ber one ski re­sort. Lo­cated on British Columbia’s west coast, 120km north of Van­cou­ver, this seis­mic re­sort proves as pop­u­lar off the slopes with an im­pres­sive ar­ray of bars for après, five-star din­ing, spas, shop­ping and night-life – all with breath­tak­ing alpine views.

SEE NI­A­GARA FALLS’ BEST SIDE, ON­TARIO

Strad­dling the in­ter­na­tional bor­der be­tween the prov­ince of On­tario and the US state of New York (130km south­west of Toronto), you’ll find the most pho­to­genic an­gle of Ni­a­gara Falls on the Cana­dian side.

Walk around the western rim of Ni­a­gara River and take in panoramic views of three thun­der­ing water­falls that make up this nat­u­ral won­der – Amer­i­can Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horse­shoe Falls.

Get up close to the ac­tion on board a cata­ma­ran or jet­boat tour, or do the “Jour­ney Be­hind the Falls” ex­pe­ri­ence, in­volv­ing a 45m el­e­va­tor ride to two dra­matic out­door ob­ser­va­tion decks, prime seat­ing to watch one-fifth of the world’s fresh­wa­ter crash­ing into the basin below.

EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH MON­TREAL, QUE­BEC

The largest city in the prov­ince of Que­bec (570km north­east of Toronto, On­tario), Mon­treal is con­sid­ered the heart and soul of Cana­dian French cul­ture. Char­ac­terised by its Eu­ro­pean flair, French ma­jor­ity, and di­verse im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion, Mon­treal is the cui­sine cap­i­tal, boast­ing the high­est num­ber of restau­rants per capita in Canada (ar­guably within North Amer­ica).

It also claims to be the mod­ern­day home of smoked meats, maple syrup del­i­ca­cies, and Canada’s hearty na­tional dish, pou­tine. A coro­nary-in­duc­ing com­bi­na­tion of french fries, squeaky cheese curds, and thick gravy, this deca­dent dish is said to have been cre­ated in Que­bec in the 1950s, but to­day you’ll find vari­a­tions (and re­gional spe­cial­ties) right across Canada.

While you’re in town, catch one of the block­buster events that ce­ment Mon­treal as the coun­try’s cul­tural epi­cen­tre, such as the In­ter­na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val, For­mula 1 Grand Prix

SUM­MER’S THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO EX­PE­RI­ENCE ICONIC CANA­DIAN EVENTS SUCH AS THE CALGARY STAM­PEDE

du Canada and Mon­treal en lu­mière, one of the largest win­ter fes­ti­vals in the world.

WATCH WILDLIFE ON VAN­COU­VER IS­LAND, BC

Just off the west coast of British Columbia, Van­cou­ver Is­land is not only home to Vic­to­ria, the prov­ince’s cap­i­tal city (115km south­west of Van­cou­ver), it’s also a hotspot for an­i­mal en­coun­ters.

With some 7000 known species that in­habit the area, there are more than 200 species of mi­gra­tory birds and 33 species of land mam­mals.

Whether it’s kayak­ing with or­cas (killer whales) around Tele­graph Cove, snorkelling with har­bour seals in Nanaimo, swim­ming with thou­sands of salmon in Camp­bell River, or spot­ting any of the black bears, elk or deer that in­habit the tem­per­ate rain­forests that grow across the is­land, there is no short­age of op­por­tu­ni­ties to get up close with some of Canada’s most fas­ci­nat­ing wildlife.

SUM­MER VER­SUS WIN­TER

With pros and cons to ev­ery sea­son in Canada, it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that given the im­mense geo­graphic size of the coun­try, weather pat­terns do vary dras­ti­cally be­tween prov­inces (and even within prov­inces). With this in mind, be sure to plan around the spe­cific re­gion you’re vis­it­ing.

Gen­er­ally, sum­mer (June to Au­gust) is peak sea­son in Canada, with long sunny days prov­ing prime time to ex­plore the abun­dance of stun­ning hik­ing trails, camp sites, and pris­tine lakes.

It’s also the best time of year to see much of Canada’s wildlife, lap up Toronto’s cos­mopoli­tan bar cul­ture, and ex­pe­ri­ence an ar­ray of iconic Cana­dian events such as the Calgary Stam­pede in Alberta, Just for Laughs fes­ti­val in Mon­treal, and Ot­tawa Blues­fest. Of course, peak sea­son also means peak prices across flights, ho­tels, and trans­porta­tion.

On the flip side, win­ter (De­cem­ber to March) has its own ap­peal with most of the coun­try un­der snow. Even if ski­ing or snow­board­ing down Canada’s fa­mous slopes is off the cards, most ski des­ti­na­tions of­fer win­ter ac­tiv­i­ties that novices can en­joy, such as snow­shoe­ing in Whistler, BC, dog sled­ding in Charlevoix, Que­bec, or ice-climb­ing and skat­ing at Happy Val­ley Ad­ven­ture Park in Big White, Alberta.

Win­ter is also syn­ony­mous with Canada’s na­tional pas­time, ice hockey. Re­li­giously fol­lowed by Cana­di­ans young and old, you can get swept up in the pas­sion watch­ing an NHL home game.

Head­ing north to the Yukon, win­ter is the best time to see the mes­meris­ing aurora bo­re­alis (aka the North­ern Lights) swirl across the arc­tic skies, as it’s of­ten not dark enough through­out sum­mer.

How­ever, if you do plan a win­ter trip, be pre­pared for seasonal trans­port chal­lenges, es­pe­cially if you’re self-driv­ing.

ES­SEN­TIAL TIPS CANADA IS ENOR­MOUS

Made up of 10 prov­inces, three ter­ri­to­ries, and five time zones, Canada’s land mass cov­ers al­most 10 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres, mak­ing it the sec­ond largest coun­try in the world (af­ter Rus­sia). To put this in per­spec­tive, it takes a min­i­mum 50 hours be­hind the wheel to drive from coast to coast.

With such a vast area to ex­plore, it can be chal­leng­ing if you only have a lim­ited time to travel.

Con­sider choos­ing just one re­gion, such as the Rocky Moun­tains or BC’s West Coast, or book one of the many rep­utable tours that op­er­ate through­out Canada, which spe­cialise in max­imis­ing time and sight­see­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

TAX AND TIP­PING When buying any­thing in Canada, you’ll no­tice the price is higher at the check­out than what’s on the shelf (or menu). That’s be­cause sales tax isn’t in­cluded in the dis­play price, so ex­pect to pay an ex­tra 5-15 per cent, depend­ing which prov­ince you’re in.

Then there’s the art of tip­ping. While not manda­tory in Canada, it is gen­er­ally ex­pected as most ser­vice providers re­ceive a rel­a­tively low base wage. But you only need tip when a ser­vice is in­volved, such as for wait­ers and bar­tenders, taxi driv­ers, beau­ti­cians and tour

While tip­ping 15-20 per cent of the cost is con­sid­ered stan­dard, some peo­ple tip less if it was poor ser­vice or more if it was ex­cep­tional.

The good news is that the Cana­dian dol­lar is rel­a­tively on par with the Aus­tralian dol­lar (un­like in the US), so it’s eas­ier on your pocket.

CANNABIS IS COM­MON, RE­ALLY COM­MON

You needn’t travel far to no­tice (or smell) that Cana­di­ans take a rel­a­tively lib­eral stance on cannabis. At present, pot is le­gal for medic­i­nal pur­poses only, but it is a grey area as recre­ational mar­i­juana is on track to be le­galised in Canada by July. Al­ready there are upwards of 200 dis­pen­saries (shops that sell cannabis) na­tion­wide, to men­tion a grow­ing num­ber of gourmet ed­i­ble pro­duc­ers and cannabis-friendly travel ex­pe­ri­ences.

CANADA IS A BILIN­GUAL NA­TION

you ar­rive at any Cana­dian air­port, you’ll no­tice there are two of­fi­cial lan­guages, English and French. Ev­ery­thing from sig­nage to pack­ag­ing comes in a bilin­gual for­mat. While English is the dom­i­nant lan­guage in most ar­eas, French is the mother tongue in the prov­ince of Que­bec. What’s more, the Québé­cois lan­guage in­volves a par­tic­u­lar twang and slang that dif­fer­en­ti­ates it from Parisian French.

But multiculturalism doesn’t end there, with Cana­di­ans rep­re­sent­ing a vast range of na­tions, races, re­li­gions and her­itage. From Van­cou­ver’s vi­brant Asian com­mu­nity (with the third-largest Chi­na­town precinct in North Amer­ica), to the rich Ir­ish cul­ture of New­found­land (also with their own hy­brid ac­cent), and the unique First Na­tions cultures that can be seen from coast to coast.

YOU NEEDN’T TRAVEL FAR TO NO­TICE CANA­DI­ANS TAKE A REL­A­TIVELY LIB­ERAL STANCE ON CANNABIS

PIC­TURES: HORN­BLOWER NI­A­GARA CRUISES, ISTOCK, TRAVEL ALBERTA, CANA­DIAN TOURISM COM­MIS­SION

Canada has an in­cred­i­ble view of Ni­a­gara Falls in On­tario (main pic­ture) and cap­ti­vat­ing wildlife. Win­ter is the best time to see the North­ern Lights and lo­cals love an ice hockey game.

PIC­TURE: SUP­PLIED

French is the mother tongue in the prov­ince of Que­bec.

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