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Sunday, October 19, 2008

ROCKY ENCOUNTERS OF THE BEAR FIND

david ellis with john crook

IT'S a bit like the mystery of the one sock in the washing machine.

There are signs everywhere warning of the presence of bears. And how dangerous bears can be.

The friendly staff at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge constantly repeat the warnings, and fellow guests tell us of their Close Encounters of the Bear Find in the surrounding spruce forests.

But we've been here a week and we've walked bush trails, and hiked lake frontages and not a bear have we seen. Are all these signs and all this talk, we start to ask ourselves, just part of a big publicity stunt to get us – and others from around the world – to this vast Canadian wilderness?

We even find on the Travel Alberta website a "Bear Update" that tells us where bears have been seen – and again how dangerous they can be.

"They're on the move now that Spring is here, looking for berry crops," it warns. Adding that campers should ensure that any food, garbage and recyclables are stowed away and bear-proofed.

So, hey, in the hope of seeing bears, cameras slung around our necks, we go in search of a camp ground. We find several, but still there's not a bear to be found. Maybe they've become wise to all that bear-proofing of what was once easy pickings?

But there's plenty more to be enjoyed here in this most northerly and largest National Park in Canada's famous Rockies, and we decide to finish our stay with an early morning round of golf – after all, the Jasper Park Lodge has been listed as best golf resort in Canada.

But even here we're thwarted, for just as we're about to tee-off next morning, who comes ambling down the fairway to put us off our swing? Not one, not two, but a whole damn family of them: Bears - Mum, Dad and their coupla kids. Wandering along in a world of their own, stopping occasionally to sniff the air and sensing we – now rapidly retreating – human intruders.

We take shelter in the car and click away to our hearts content, telling anyone who'll listen that it was worth a week's wait for this magical moment.

And we guess that really, while that magic half hour will remain with us forever, it's the spectacular surrounding Rockies that is the big attraction here.

"A little bit of heaven," are the words we hear over and again as we wend our way across to Lake Louise, where we pinch ourselves and decide that it was here the WOW factor was created.

Amid the craggy snow-capped peaks that tower into the skies, is the fabled Lake Louise, and next to it and beside a massive glacier, is the very indulgent Fairmont Chateau Resort: it doesn't come cheap, but even if you're staying elsewhere its well worth visiting the hotel for a drink in one of its bars, or a meal in the restaurant for the reward of its million-dollar views – no, MULTI-million dollar views.

And for a walk around the lake and onto Victoria Glacier – and a bracing diversion 3.5k's along trails first opened into the Rockies in the 1890s  to the remarkable Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse.

This extraordinary place was built of local stones gathered-up by a Swiss artisan for the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1924, and to this day still has no electricity or gas, the kitchens that turn out the most marvellous always-warm scones, jam and cream, tea, coffee and other refreshments relying on an ancient fuel stove.

And just as they did back in the 1920s, staff bring-in fresh supplies daily by  backpack or on horseback.

The Fairmont Hotel chain also have a luxury property at Banff Springs in neighbouring British Columbia that was built for the well-heeled traveller of the early 20th century venturing to the largest accumulation of snow and ice south of the Arctic Circle in the Columbia Icefield.

Amongst the highlights of adventures here is Brewster Tours' million-dollar ice-terrain vehicle, Ice Explorer onto the ancient Athabasca Glacier that stretches over six kilometres long and a kilometre wide.

For a Canadian Rockies holiday ask travel agents or Canada & Alaska Specialist Holidays on 1300 79 49 59 about packages incorporating Fairmont Hotels and Lodges.

                                                        ………………

PHOTO CAPTIONS:


[] AIN'T he cute? Maybe, but he's not to be toyed with on the green

[] A LITTLE bit of Heaven: escaping to the Rockies' Chateau Lake Louse where the WOW factor was created

[] WHEN its time to head for the hills... Banff Springs Chateau Fairmont

(Photos: Canadian Tourism)


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