1) Wildlife in a snap
Brown bears, grizzlies, elks, squirrels, you can cross their paths fairly easily and un-expectingly! Discovering in the mirror a brown bear crossing the highway? Check. Having the car blocked by a group of elks when getting out of a parking? Check. Spotting whales while coming back on a boat from an excursion to watch grizzlies on Vancouver Island? Check as well. Getting « gently » bitten by a mother racoon with her baby in Vancouver (awesome) Stanley Park? Yep, done as well. But above all, swimming, snorkelling and « hanging out » with seals? THAT was the highlight of the trip to me.
The water was not deep as we were still very near the shore. I could actually « walk on my knees ». I got closer, and closer and closer from the seal. Eventually I was like at 10-15cm from this little guy.
When we came back on the boat, the guide told me that’s the first time he sees something like that and asked me if I tried to touch the seal. I actually haven’t. But I guess that’s also probably why he was not afraid of me. My main regret is not having my DSLR camera with me – I don’t have any waterproof case for it. There were some amazing portraits to capture on that day!
2) Alone in the wild
Yes, Canada is known for its amazing hikes. It is known for the wideness of the landscapes. I knew all that, though I was still surprised by how wide it is. Trees, roads, forests, lakes, mountains. Everything is wide. Everything is large. And it is even more telling that many times you will end up alone on the road or on the hiking trail. In most of the hikes I have done in Europe, I would meet other hikers along the way. In Canada, on some days we hardly met anyone. The perfect place if you need some time away from the crowd!
We drove 4,000 kilometres within 2 weeks. However it never felt boring at all. I don’t think I have seen such diverse landscapes within a few minutes or hours. On some parts of the trip, you could see a mountain covered with snow followed by one covered with green trees, a lake, and all of a sudden huge plains and rivers. I remember I was falling asleep (on the passenger sit of course) but would force myself to stay awoken as it seemed that at every corner the scenery was different and worth a look and a picture. Impossible to get bored on those roads!
But diversity is also about the weather… It was early September, so not autumn yet. However we experienced the 4 seasons. And not only we experienced the 4 of them but we experienced them on the exact same day and exact same location!
Quick Photo Tips
Canada offers so many photo opportunities that it makes it difficult to know which equipment to bring. Pretty much everything would be of good use at some point (macro, wide angle, tele etc.). Unless you have a very strong preference for specific type of pictures, if you want to be adaptable while not carrying 20kg of equipment, I would recommend to bring along:
- « all you can do » lens: that’s how I call my 28-300mm. It is not the best lens but I can capture pretty much any type of scene. When there is a good amount of light, it will do the job easily. If you have some room left, I would probably opt for a wide angle as a good complement.
- Tripod: even more useful if your lens is not particularly bright and/or your camera body can’t handle high ISO. Tripod will be particularly a must in the forest or at night to shoot stars. It can be a pain to carry but would worth it here.
- Several batteries and memory cards: long trips, photo around every corner, « live view » shots, photo sessions in the night … always good to have spare cards and batteries. Useful investment.
And don’t forget to check your equipment before you leave, especially if it’s a new one. Don’t do like me: I thought the remote control I used to have for my Nikon D90 was working on my D4… I realised my mistake as I was trying to shoot low light pictures in the tipi!
Quick Travel Tips
We could probably write a very long list but on top of my head, here are the few points to remember:
- What to do in front of a bear: while we wanted as much as possible to see bears or grizzlies, we were not sure what to do if/when it happens. Along the way we were given a few key insights. The first one is to actually prevent a close encounter: Make noise while hiking so the bears can hear us, avoid us, and not get surprised (and, so, afraid). When a grizzly had been spotted in the area recently, smaller group (less than 4 people) are not allowed to go on the trail. Then, if the encounter does happen, stay calm, don’t show your back, and certainly don’t run, but walk away very slowly. This website gives more detailed safety recommendations.
- Plan in advance: fuel stations may be scarce on some roads between two spots. Be careful to fill up the gas tank when you can and be mindful of the distance.
- Prepare your hikes: it goes without saying but especially true in areas where you may be alone – have a map, have gloves, hats in your bag just in case, check the weather forecasts. And if you go completely alone, let someone know about your location.
And here are few cool activities to check while in Western Canada:
- Sleep in a tipi in Kootenay National Park with CrossRiver Wilderness Centre (https://www.crossriver.ca/)
- Take part to a grizzly bear expedition in Telegraph Cove with Tip Rip Grizzly Tours (https://grizzlycanada.com/)
- Snorkel with the seals in Nanaimo with Sundown Diving (http://www.sundowndiving.com/)