With most jobs you have the odd perk, but working for a travel company, the perks can be utterly amazing! Every year, depending on availability the Grand American Adventures team have the opportunity to join a tour group on an adventure of a lifetime.
Last summer one of the Grand American Adventures team, Joanna Sheridan decided to grab that opportunity with both hands and head over to Canada, choosing to stay four days on Vancouver Island followed by the nine day Canadian Rockies tour. Jo has been at the company for nearly three years and although she knows her stuff (she wouldn't be an adventure travel specialist if she didn't), it's always best to experience first hand the tours that we sell.
I sat down with Jo on her return to find out how she got on, here's what she had to say...
1. Have you ever been to Canada before? And what made you decide to go there on this trip?
Most of my dad’s side of the family are in Vancouver now but I hadn’t been out there to see them since I was 8... A scary 17 years ago! Canada was the next destination up for grabs for someone from the sales team to go and check out and I jumped at the opportunity to head back to the West Coast!
2. Can you tell us what it was like stepping foot on to Vancouver Island, a place teeming with wildlife?
Vancouver Island, more specifically Tofino is probably my new favourite hidden place to escape to. Surf vans, good coffee, the barefoot lifestyle, the best smoked salmon, rugged sandy beaches, incredible forests, wildlife never too far away (we had a bald eagle swoop through the “main street”!), hidden coves and hot springs – I’ll definitely be going back. Tofino is totally me!
3. Did you manage to see any bears on your visit to Vancouver? If yes, what did it feel like seeing these beautiful animals in the wild?
Yes, on the first morning, the included zodiac bear watching trip didn’t disappoint! With small boats and an experienced captain / guide, it didn’t take long to find a hidden beach with a black bear mother and her small cub. Approaching by boat is brilliant as they don’t feel threatened from the water – we got close enough to hear them turning rocks and crunching through shellfish! I think it sent a shiver done everyone's spine! Who needs the zoom function on a camera when you’re in Canada, hey?
4. Were there any other highlights from your trip to Vancouver Island?
We were lucky enough that everyone in our group choose the afternoon’s whale watching tour, it just adds to an incredible day. With two hours of sailing (more like wave riding!) out to Maquinna Marine Provincial Park there is plenty of time to spot Gray and Humpback whales and if you’re lucky, Orcas. You then step onto land and after a half hour boardwalk stroll through the lush forest, you arrive at the natural hot mineral spring pools. These geothermal hot springs cascade down a waterfall into half a dozen rocky pools. The delightful hot pools flow from one level to the next, gradually becoming cooler as the fresh spring water is cooled by ocean swells. Such a unique experience!
5. Do you think four days is enough to see all that Vancouver Island has to offer?
You could definitely spend longer on Vancouver Island, however this trip was the perfect duration with a tour leader who knows exactly where to take you and how to get you straight there. It’s also the perfect mix, you have the great outdoors of Tofino and the capital, Victoria, a really beautiful city.
6. Grand American Adventures have lots of great Canada tours, what was it about the Canadian Rockies trip that caught your eye?
Combining it with Vancouver Island, the nine day Canadian Rockies was the perfect length to see the main highlights of that region and at a leisurely pace. I would have been more than happy if I’d been left out there longer though!
7. You visited some of the most beautiful National Parks in the Canada, which was your favourite and why?
Wow hard choice...(few minutes to reflect on all the amazing National Parks and make a hard decision) I'd have to say, seeing my first hanging glacier in Yoho National Park and hiking the impressive 17 kilometre trail from Takakkaw Falls, past Yoho Lake and then descending down to Emerald Lake – the scenery made us all stop, gasp and realise just how impressive the Rockies actually are.
8. What did you do in your free time?
By having enough free time it really made this trip feel longer than just nine days. A complete day to do what you wanted in Banff was definitely a highlight – a gorgeous town with great scenery and it’s always good to treat yourself to a cocktail at the Fairmont Banff Springs, while overlooking the Rocky Mountains. It’s a hard life having to reward yourself after several days of eating the best cakes from Laggan’s bakery in Lake Louise, walking past turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains and thundering waterfalls!
9. Did you take part in any of the optional activities?
Probably the main highlight for me was the optional guided Athabasca Glacier toe trail – three hours with a guide and just our group, feet in crampons, walking up and along the ice. Our guide was great and let me lay on the ice and look down into stomach churning crevasses, so deep you couldn't see the bottom, we also drank the glacier meltwater. Don’t forget your suncream and sunglasses if you head out onto the glacier!
10. If you were to visit Canada again where would you go next and why?
I would love to go over to the east and see some of the cool cities over there and experience a totally different side to Canada. But, hopefully it won’t be long until I can return to the incredible West Coast!
11. Do you have funny stories/memories from your time in Canada?
I won’t mention my lovely tour leader’s name but being left behind after dinner in Banff was pretty funny! We’d all had a great dinner at the Magpie & Stump in downtown and had grouped together outside ready to head back to the van and I just popped inside to grab something. I came back and to my panic they’d all gone! It was my first night in Banff so hadn’t a clue where I was! The beauty of a full trip though is they know when there’s an empty seat in the van and it didn’t take long for my tour leader to run back for me!