On her visit to Canada
, Giaan Rooney took a drive along the Icefields Parkway
. The 230km-long drive links Lake Louise and Jasper. It traces a thin line paralleling the backbone of the Canadian Rockies, splitting the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
It was recognised in 1984 by UNESCO for its outstanding natural beauty, wildlife and geological value. There is so much to look at, it would be highly unlikely anyone has ever been given a speeding ticket on the parkway!
It all began as a one-lane gravel track, hacked through mountains by unemployed men on horseback in 1931, during the Great Depression. They used picks and shovels, working in very harsh conditions. The road opened in 1940, and with the growth of tourism, was sealed, widened and realigned.
One of the world's most spectacular scenic highways, Icefields Parkway offers ever-changing views of icy waterfalls, emerald lakes, alpine meadows and snow-capped peaks reaching 3300m. Beneath them are bighorn sheep, deer elk and black bears.
Giaan met up with retired park ranger, Wes Bradford. Over his 35 years in the area, he has witnessed plenty of bear jams. That's when a sleuth of bears appears and traffic stops. Giaan didn't witness a bear jam, but less than a kilometre out of Jasper she did see a family of deer.
Wes says you will see as much wildlife as you would want on an Icefields drive as you would on a 12-day hike.
If you do rent a car or RV, Giaan strongly recommends you get yourself a GyPSy Guide. It plays commentary and stories automatically as you approach interesting places. Professionals have filled the GyPSy Guides with everything you should see and with almost 5000 activation points throughout western Canada and the Canadian Rockies, it was money well spent. There are lots of locations and you can pick one up at one and drop it off at another.
Giaan did exactly as her GyPSy told her and turned right to Athabasca Falls. At 23m, they aren't all that high by Canadian Rockies' standards, but are one of the most spectacular sights along the way. They are formed by the Athabasca River pouring into a narrow canyon cutting through quartz-rich rock. Have your camera ready!
One of the highest stops is the Columbia Icefield. There are tours on the Athabasca Glacier in custom-designed Ice Explorers. The six-wheeled explorers were designed for glacial travel and will take you on a 90-minute excursion onto the surface of the glacier with an experienced driver/guide.
Giaan's guide, Luke Lemay, said they have been operating since the 1960s, and at the halfway point, you can safely step onto the glacier's ice, which has been there for hundreds of years. It's 6km long and 1km wide with ice as thick as the Eiffel Tower is high.
The beautiful Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was the perfect place to end a perfect day. It's like arriving in fairyland. It's been there since 1890. The lake's turquoise water sparkle under the towering Victoria Glacier and no matter the season, there is plenty to see and do.
The Icefields Parkway is open year-round. The most popular time to visit is between June and September. In the winter time, expect temporary closures (as much as three days) after heavy snowfalls.
Related gallery: Icy times in Vancouver
The Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and Jasper in Alberta, Canada.
Adventure World has 10-day self-drive packages starting at $2789 per person twin-share. They include accommodation, car hire, an Icefield Glacier Experience, GyPSy Guide and national park fees.
GyPSy Guides cost around $38 for one day through to $217 for a week. Extra days over a week are $15.
Columbia Icefields Explorer 90-minute tours cost around $49 for adults and $24 for children.
Air New Zealand has flights to Calgary via Vancouver from:
- Sydney $2383
- Gold Coast $2452
- Melbourne $2459
- Perth $2649
- Adelaide $2660
- Cairns $2664
Valid for travel between January 17 and June 16, 2011, and July 18 and December 9, 2011. Conditions apply.
For further information
Air New Zealand
Ph: 132 476
Ph: 1300 363 055
PO Box 259
Banff, Alberta T1L 1A4
Ph: +1 403 760 8200
Fax: +1 403 760 8255
Colombia Icefields Explorer
PO Box 1140
Banff, Alberta T1L 1J3
Ph: 1 780 852 6550
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
111 Lake Louise Drive
Lake Louise, Alberta T0L 1E0
Ph: +1 403 522 3511
Fax: +1 403 522 3834
Visas: Australians do not require a visa for stays of up to six months. Passports must be valid for the period of the intended stay.
Electricity: 110V at 60Hz using plugs with two vertical pins.
Time zone: Alberta is GMT -7.
Currency: The Canadian dollar.
International dialling code: +1.