Tofino from Cox Bay lookout

Long Beach, Tofino

Two days in Tofino is absolutely nowhere near enough to do everything the cosy, windswept little town has to offer. However, I can promise that being in Tofino is like slipping into the comfiest PJs ever and you will emerge three days later feeling so refreshed and relaxed - even if you pack your days full of adventures.

The windswept town is almost half way up the west coast of Vancouver Island, just off the coast of Vancouver. Tofino is almost surrounded by the Pacific ocean, and interestingly is the end of the Trans-Canada Highway. There's plenty to do in this surfers paradise, from watersports, wildlife watching, hiking, eating, and relaxing. 

 

Tofino harbour

Tofino

Tofino is a small town on the west side of Vancouver Island at the end of highway 4. With only one road connecting it to the outside world, it feels so peaceful and cosy. If you're looking for a destination that makes you feel a million miles away from chaos and allows you to reconnect with that wild feeling, you need to go to Tofino. In the summer, Tofino attracts hikers, nature lovers, and surfers. In the winter, it attracts storm watchers.

It's no coincidence that the local magazine is called "Tofino Time". Life slows down to half pace as soon as you enter the town. The vibe is more chill than Shaggy & Scooby Doo. The only place people seem to be in a rush to get to the is the beach, with good reason because the surf is good and the views are even better. I'm not kidding, we saw so many people running to the beach with their surfboards under their arms, like they had an insatiable need to surf. We even saw a guy managing to ride a bike and hold his surfboard at the same time - I have no idea how he did it. I suspect that if I tried, it would involve a lot of face-planting the floor.

 

What to do - how to spend two days in Tofino

Two days isn't much time at all. Don't pack your schedule too tight because you're going to want time to relax and once you start exploring beaches and covers, you'll soon run out of time.

 

Take a wildlife tour

There is no shortage of wildlife to be seen around Tofino, whether it's whales, birds, bears, seals, or something else. I think you would have to have a whole load of bad luck and bad timing on your side if you didn't see anything.

Several companies in Tofino and Ucluelet offer boat or air wildlife tours. We went whale watching with Jamie's Whaling Station and had a great time spotting whales, sea otters, and taking in Clayoquot Sound, and learning about the area. We really enjoyed their tour and would definitely recommend them - next time we want to do their bear watching tour.

Spotting a whale on a whale watching tour with Jamie's Whaling Station, Tofino

Seeing a sea otter on a boat tour with Jamie's Whaling Station, Tofino

Wildlife spotting on your own 

As I said, I think you'd have to be pretty unlucky to not see something. Spent some time on beaches and you might end up seeing something wonderful. We followed the Tonquin Trail from the community centre down to Tonquin beach and spotted whales out in the bay, and saw a bald eagle chilling on a rock.

Pay respect to signs informing you that beaches are closed to humans after dark to allow wildlife to feed. And never forget that you are the stranger in another animal's territory. Make sure you don't leave any litter or food around that may attract wildlife, carry bear spray, and know what to do if you encounter a bear, wolf, or mountain lion.

I recently read a PhD thesis which commented that a big chunk of people surveyed were entering into areas that had bears and they didn't know what to do if they encountered one. (There are no stats as that was an observation she made, not actually part of her research.)

A Bald Eagle at Tonquin Beach, Tofino

 

Explore beaches

The beaches around Tofino are some of the most beautiful beaches either of us had ever seen. They're vast, windswept, and you can walk between some of them at low tide.

We spent hours exploring beaches, climbing up rocks for views, looking for rock pools and taking in where we were. We even discovered a beach called Rosie Beach, which had a beautiful house perched on the edge of it. It was pretty fun to imagine what it would be like to live there and look out your window to the sea every day.

Daz at Long Beach

Cox Bay, Tofino

Enjoying the view on Cox Bay, Tofino

 

Rainforest A trail in Tofino

Hiking

There's no shortage of hiking trails around Tofino. Here are some of the ones we did:

  • Tonquin Trail - a short trail from Tofino's community centre down to Tonquin Beach. 
  • Rainforest A & B - two short loop trails, each one starting at difference sides of the highway. It's interesting to note the comparison between the rainforest you walk through in both of these trails. Rainforest A is older, and Rainforest B has a younger bit at the start. This trail is perfect if it's raining because the trees keep you pretty well sheltered from the rain. It's a really ground experience to be surrounded by so many ancient trees. 
  • The Lighthouse Loop - a 2.6km trail that forms part of the Wild Pacific Trail, and starts in Ucluelet. It's a wonderful trail for seeing the power of the waves against the rocks, and the lighthouse is well worth seeing. 

There are many more trails around and we found Tofino Trails to be really helpful when planning what we were going to do. If you fancy going further afield, the Lone Cone trail looks like it provides rewarding views over Clayoquot Sound. As it involves getting a water taxi to Meares Island, doing that hike will probably take up the majority of your day. This hike is definitely on our list of things to do when we return. 

 

Surfing or paddleboarding

Tofino is a surfers paradise. Unfortunately we didn’t have chance to go surfing but we saw loads of people trying it out for the first time, and total pros. You won't struggle to find a company who can teach you to surf or paddleboard, and it's something we want to try out next time.

amphitrite lighthouse in Ucluelet, down the road from Tofino

View from the Lighthouse Loop, in Ucluelet

Where to stay in Tofino

Daz and I stayed at Green Point Campground, just outside Tofino, on the edge of Long Beach. It's a Parks Canada owned campsite which can be booked through their website. It cost us $107.90 CAD (around £65) for three nights with a fire permit, and fire wood can be brought on site. All of the Parks Canada campsites we've stayed at were really nice, clean, had good facilities but this one was even more special. Green Point Campground has a private trail down to Long Beach, and it's possible to pick a pitch with ocean views. 

We stayed in pitch 67, which had views through the trees over the ocean. I'm not sure if any of the pitches actually have views of the beach itself. When you book through the Parks Canada website, you can click on all of the pitches and see photos of the pitch, some of them clearly show ocean views. I'm not sure where else you're going to get ocean views for $22 per night.

There are other campsites around Tofino, which vary in price. For example, at Bella Pacifica you can camp on the beach but it is more expensive than the Parks Canada site. 

In Tofino, you can find B&B's, apartments, inns, and lodges. I always recommend AirBnB because  we love it so much. You can always find something that fits your budget and needs. If we aren't camping, AirBnB is our go-to.

There is also an eco-lodge at Tofino's Botanical Garden if you're looking for accommodation that takes care of the environment. That said, we felt a lot of places we visited were eco-friendly and I think that's to do with the close connection the town has with nature and wildlife. 

Tofino harbour in the rain

Where to eat in Tofino

Tofino has a brilliant food scene, and you'll have no trouble finding somewhere to eat. We loved the Common Loaf Bakery; it had amazing sandwiches, and we keep thinking about their peasant bread. Sobo is a wonderful little restaurant, with a great story about how it started out as a food truck and grew into a popular restaurant. Wolf In The Fog is a popular restaurant; we didn't eat there but have heard plenty of good reviews and it looks really nice.

Just outside Tofino there's a small group of eateries, including TacoFino, Chocolate Tofino, and Tofitan Cafe. Further down the Pacific Rim Highway is Jamie's Rainforest Inn which does a really nice breakfast. We went there on a rainy morning to relax and plan the rest of our day. 

The Pacific Ocean from Long Beach, Tofino

Reaching Tofino

Despite there only being one road in and out of Tofino, it's really easy to get to. The beautiful little town is on the west side of Vancouver Island, which you can get to by ferry, plane, or helicopter.If you're flying, you can fly from Vancouver Intl, Seattle-Tacoma Intl, Victoria Intl, Nanaimo airport, or Comox Valley airport.

From Victoria, Tofino is 317km away via the 1 to Nanaimo, the 19, and then follow the 4 to the end of the road. You'll go through a few towns on the way, so there's places to stop off for fuel, food, and Timmy's! The scenery is wonderful round there, and it's well worth stopping off by the side of a lake for your lunch and to stretch your legs. 

The 4 is the only route in and out of Tofino, so I recommend keeping an eye on the road and road conditions on the Driving BC website. A few hours after we left Tofino, we heard that an accident had shut the 4 for a few hours. If there's going to be heavy rain, I recommend leaving extra time to get in or out of Tofino because the roads can feel very daunting in heavy rain and you won't be doing the speed limit. 

The walk down to Chesterman Beach, Tofino

We enjoyed our two days in Tofino even more than we imagined we would. It's hard to explain exactly how relaxed and refreshed we felt after two packed days. After our time in Tofino, we drove across to spend a few days in Vancouver. I've gotta tell you, Vancouver was a stark contrast between Tofino and it definitely took us a minute to adjust to a big city. 

Have you ever been to Tofino? If you have any questions, drop me a comment or get in touch 🙂 

How to spend 2 days in Tofino

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Sunset from the Bow River Loop, Canmore

When we were in Canada, one of our goals was to see an amazing sunset, and Canmore finally provided us with one from the Bow River Loop trail.

We tried hard to chase sunsets but the sky was just not in our favour, over and over again. The sky would either go a darker shade of blue, completely cloud over, or it would rain torrentially.

On our first day in Canmore, we discovered the Bow River Loop, a 20-minute flat walk around the Bow River on the edge of town. As we were sat in our hotel room one evening, we spotted colour creeping into the sky and dashed out to the car and down to the trail.

Red and orange clouds over Mount Rundle, Canmore

Pink clouds at sunset over Mount Rundle

Canmore Engine Bridge

Golden light bathed the mountains and forests surrounding the town and we almost ran down to Canmore Engine Bridge to set up the camera. It wasn’t long until we were treated to a pink, red, and orange display lighting up Mount Rundle and Cascade Mountain. I loved the way streams of light seemed to shoot out of the top of the mountain and paint patterns in the sky.

We stood there for a while, taking photos and trying to take in the awe-inspiring sunset, and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who started conversations with us. Considering both of us hate small talk, we loved the way people talk to each other on the street.

Everyone has heard the stereotype that Canadians are friendly, and it was true of the majority of Canadians we spoke to. Canadian hospitality has got to rival Southern hospitality because we felt welcomed and at home everywhere we went.

Sunset over Cascade Mountain from the Bow River Loop, Canmore

Canmore is one of our favourite places in Canada. The locals say that Banff is where you go to visit and Canmore is where you live. It’s a fairly quiet little town, about 20 minutes from Banff, on the Bow River with plenty activities to choose from, such as; hiking, kayaking, stand up kayaking, climbing, snowsports, and more.

If you’re ever in the Canmore or Banff area, it is well worth taking a stroll around the Bow River Loop at sunset. The trail in general is well worth a visit in general, whether you’ve got half an hour spare to take in some spectacular views, a few hours, or the whole day; the Bow River Loop connects to other walking and cycling trails, so you aren’t going to be short of things to do.

Sunset over the Three Sisters, Canmore

Where’s the best place you’ve watched the sun set?

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7 days in Banff and Jasper, an intinerary
7 days is no where near enough time to discover all that Banff and Jasper have to offer but we found that we got a surprising amount done in a week.

When we arrived at Canadian border control, the chap behind the desk did seem a bit befuzzled about us visiting Canada for just seven days but hey, you do what you can with your holidays.

In reflection, the way we planned our time in Banff and Jasper could have been a little better as we spent a couple of nights in Canmore, before driving up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper for a few days and then coming back down to spend some time in Banff. I'm not suggesting this is the perfect itinerary but I think it gives you a good idea of what things to try and see on the same days.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Day one: Emerald Lake & Takakkaw Falls

Emerald Lake is about an hour and a half drive from Canmore (and a bit less if you're staying in Banff) and boy is it worth the drive. You will no doubt have seen photos like this (to the right) on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest because it is just so beautiful and shareworthy.

Take a couple of hours to stroll around the lake, gawking in absolutely awe of the crazy blue colour of the water which makes it look like photoshop in real life. You can also hire kayaks to go out on the lake as well; we didn't do this but it would certainly be worth it. The price for kayak hire is pretty much the same at all the lakes we went to. We didn't really consider it to be cheap but it is worth it for the memories and experience of getting to kayak on a lake that looks like someone dropped some huge blue bath bombs into.

Pick up a snack from the little hut next to Emerald Lake Lodge and then head down the road to visit Takkakkaw Falls. The road up to the falls is well paved but can be quite windy and tight at times but do not let that deter you because it is stunning. The falls are about a 10-15 minute walk from the car.

If you want to find out more about Emerald Lake, I did a whole blog post about it.

We stayed at: Windtower Lodge & Suites in Canmore

Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park

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The Icefields Parkway

Day two: explore the Icefields Parkway

We were camping for the rest of our trip so we picked up our camping equipment from Rent-a-Tent in Canmore. If you are thinking about camping go for it because these guys were amazing and we're hiring from them again this summer.

The Icefields Parkway is a 232 mile (144 km) road connecting Banff and Jasper that features in a lot of "best roads to drive" lists, and for good reasons too. The views from the road are absolutely stunning and there are no shortages of places to stop off; whether it's a lake that is just at the edge of the road or the start of a hiking trail.

We made a few stop offs on the way up, including Peyto Lake and the Athabasca Glacier. It is possible to drive the entire length of the Icefields Parkway but as we stopped off a few times it took us about six hours.

In the evening, take a stroll around Jasper and find somewhere to eat. We found that some of the restaurants stopped serving food about 20:00 - 20:30, I'm not sure if that's normal in Canada but do keep it in mind.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground, a few minutes drive outside Jasper. You can find out more about it and reserve a pitch through Parks Canada.

Maligne Lake boat house and kayak rental

Medicine Lake, just outside Jasper

Day three: Medicine Lake & Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake can be very busy during the high season, so it's worth getting up early if you want to avoid the crowds. Also, if you get up early you are more likely to see wildlife; we saw a huge elk stood on the bank at the side of the road, looking out across his kingdom. We also saw a bear just outside Jasper early in the morning too.

On the way to Maligne Lake, it's worth stopping off at Medicine Lake and to see some of the eerie looking prescribed burn sites. Interestingly, Medicine Lake isn't really a lake and is actually a part of the Maligne River and it fills up to become a lake when the melt water can't drain away fast enough.

Once you're at Maligne Lake, there are a few trails you can follow, or you can take a boat tour around the lake, or go kayaking. We followed the shortest trail around the edge of the lake and into the forest before deciding to hire a kayak. Let me tell you that I do not recommend you do that if it's a windy day because it was pretty tough and was not entirely relaxing. You can read more about our windy kayaking experience on Maligne Lake here.

On the way back to Jasper, we stopped off at Maligne Canyon and had a walk around for about 45 minutes. Heights don't usually bother me, but looking down into the canyon was a little mind-bending.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground again.

Athabasca Falls, just outside Jasper on the Icefields Parkway

A canyon at Athabasca Falls, Jasper

Day four: Around Jasper & Icefields Parkway

In the morning, we explored some of the stops on the Icefields Parkway closest to Jasper. The first one we went to was Athabasca Falls, which is about half an hour out of Jasper, as we decided we'd drive to the furthest point and then start coming back on ourselves. It was basically like a grander and fancier version of the canyon we visited the day before. It had longer trails, a roaring waterfall and the drops seemed even deeper.

The next stop was just a few minutes up the road; Horseshoe Lake and it was a real hidden gem. To get to the other side of the lake you have to follow this trail, which feels quite overgrown in comparison to pretty much all the other trails we saw. It was the only time in Canada where I felt like I might get snook up on by bears. The water looked so inviting and I had to stop myself from jumping in.

After that, we headed back through Jasper and stopped off a Pyramid Lake. When you see Pyramid Mountain from Jasper and the sun hits it at the right angle, it seems to glow a little and reminded us of a dragon's egg, so we took to calling it Dragon Mountain.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Edith and Annette Lake. The two lakes are really close together and you can easily walk between the two in a couple of minutes. In between the lakes are loads of picnic areas and you can just imagine how packed it must be come a nice summer day.

 

Snow on the icefields parkway

Lake Minnewanka, Banff

Vermillion Lakes, Banff

Day five: around Banff

We left Jasper just before 11am and only stopped off a couple of times on the way back down the Icefields Parkway to make the most of our time in Banff. It took us about three hours to drive from Jasper to Banff and we headed straight to Two Jack Lakeside campsite to set up our tent.

After being in the car for so long we took a walk around Banff, explored Vermillion Lakes, and Lake Minnewanka. Vermillion Lakes is on the edge of Banff and is a nice little route that takes you past the lakes, that have a distinctive sulphur smell.

There is a loop road around Lake Minnewanka called Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, and there are a couple of trails which start off the loop as well.

Where we stayed: Two Jack Lakeside campsite. Again, this can be reserved through the Parks Canada website.

 

Kayaking on Lake Louise

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Day six: Lake Louise & Moraine Lake

Our sixth day was a seriously jam-packed one. We drove up to Lake Louise to see what all the hype was about; yes, it's very touristy but it is for a good reason because it is beautiful. We followed the Lake Agnes teahouse trail up the mountain to the teahouse, where we enjoyed a spot of well-deserved lunch. It probably took us about 40 - 50 minutes to reach the teahouse and it is possible to go onto do another tea house, called the Big Beehive, but we were not feeling fit enough at all.

When we returned to Lake Louise we decided to hire a kayak for an hour (read more about that here), which was more than enough time because it doesn't take that long to explore the lake.

Afterwards, we drove to Moraine Lake as we'd seen it on the cover of our Lonely Planet guidebook and wanted to see it for ourselves. It was early afternoon by the time we got there and there were buses, camper vans, and cars parked everywhere. Despite that, it wasn't that crowded and it certainly wasn't anywhere near as crowded as Lake Louise.

I think we both wished we had kayaked on Moraine Lake instead, hindsight is a wonderful thing. For both of us, Moraine Lake was an absolute highlight of the trip so if there is one thing I recommend you do, out of everything listed here or anything you see in guidebooks, it's Moraine Lake. Photos do not do it justice at all.

Kayaks at Moraine Lake, Alberta

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Morning reflection in Two Jack Lake

Day seven: Banff

If you are staying at Two Jack Lakeside, or even in the Banff area, I recommend getting up early and visiting Two Jack Lake as the sun rises. I am not a morning person at all but Daz managed to drag me out of the tent at 7am and I was rewarded with this stunning view. If you're hunting for all the red chairs, there are two on the banks of the lake.

After packing up our tent we went into Banff to get a couple of souvenirs, headed back to Canmore to return the camping equipment, and then went to the airport.

If your flight is later on in the day there are loads more things you could do around Banff, like visit the Cave & Basin museum, take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, visit Banff Hot Springs, go to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary on the way to the airport, and so much more.

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11 fun and free things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

It’s true; Reykjavik is an expensive city (especially if you’re British because the exchange rate is so bad for us). Luckily, there are plenty of free things you can do while exploring Iceland’s capital city.

 

Reykjavik street art magic rainbow unicorn

Admire some weird and wonderful street art [Read: 10 pieces of Reykjavik street art you need to see & where to find it]

Reykjavik has a reputation for it’s street art. It’s plentiful and it is all kinds of weird and beautiful.

You really don’t have to look far to find it either because you’ll find some of it adorning shop fronts down Laugavegur, you’ll catch glimpses of it down side streets, and if you go wandering you’ll find it decorating neighbourhoods.

Reykjavik street art I miss you, I miss the smell of your hair

My personal favourite was this really simple but powerful piece. I saw it and these whole waves of the feels hit me.

 

 

Reykjavik Harpa

See the city from Harpa

Impossible to miss, Harpa is Reykjavik’s concert and exhibition hall. While the events are ticketed, anyone can wander into the building, and up the stairs to see the city from a height.

The building itself is really pretty, with oddly shaped windows, some of which are tinted, which make for a nice pattern against the city.

 

Reykjavik sea wall at sunrise

Walk along the sea wall

Once you’ve visited Harpa, take a left out of the building and walk along the seawall where you can let the crisp air hit your face and take in views of Mount Esja.

 

 

Sun voyager, Reykjavik

Photograph sun voyager

This sculpture on the seawall is one of the most touristy spots in the city. I mean, it’s easy to see why; it’s a beautiful sculpture depicting a ship with the sea and Mt Esja in the background. And if you go down at sunrise or sunset, your bound to get a brilliant photo. Though you might have to wait your turn because everyone wants a photo in front of it.

 

Reykjavik walking tour Tjornin

Take a free walking tour [Read: Discover Reykjavik on a free walking tour from CityWalks]

CityWalks offer a very popular two-hour walking tour around Reykjavik, covering the history of the city and the Icelandic culture. From personal experience I can tell you that this tour is absolutely worth it and is a brilliant way to see and learn about the city.

This tour is listed as free, as it doesn’t have any kind of ticket price, and you basically pay what you think the tour is worth. Technically, it’s free as you don’t have to pay your guide anything. But if you do pay your guide, it’s probably one of the cheapest activities you can do in Reykjavik and is certainly worth it.

 

Reykjavik snowy Tjornin

Stroll around Tjornin

Tjornin is the park next to city hall, where you can take a nice leisurely stroll around a lake and enjoy looking at the nice neighbourhoods around it.

 

Map of Iceland in Reykjavik city hall

Get up close with Iceland…and a vagina?

Ok, so I’m going to start on the one that caught your attention here; the vagina. So, Iceland’s mayor decided that the best way to celebrate 100 years of women being allowed to vote in Iceland was to unveil some artwork depicting a vagina. It’s not immensely obscene and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have realised what it was had I not been told.

I mean, I kinda see the major’s idea; people don’t say the word ‘vagina’ all that often and look you’ve read it four times in the last minute! On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like the most progressive way to stop sexism but Reykajvik does also have a penis museum, so I guess it balances out. Plus, it is a very liberal city.

Once you’ve gotten over that, take a look at the huge 3D map of Iceland.

 

Get a panoramic view at the Perlan

The viewing deck of the Perlan offers 360 degree views of the surrounding area, making it a perfect place to get a really good view of the city. (The best place is probably Hallgrimskirkja right in the city, but that’s not free.) It’s completely free to get to the viewing deck, but there is a restaurant and a cafe if you fancy a bite to eat.

 

Reykjavik Hallgrimskirkja

Admire Hallgrimskirkja

While it will cost you to get up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja, walking around it and admiring the church is completely free. You can also go inside the church for free. If you do want to get up to the top, get there early or prepare to queue.

 

Seeing the northern lights in Reykjavik

See the northern lights

If the conditions are right, it’s possible to see lady aurora from the city. We headed down to the sea wall on a clear night, when good solar activity was forecast (you’ll find the aurora forecast website handy), and we were rewarded with a patch of green in the sky.

It was hard to spot at first, and to begin with I wasn’t sure if it was a cloud and my brain was playing tricks on me and turning it green. But no. The green got stronger and we saw it for about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, I had broken my tri-pod the day before so my photos were not great (as you can see).

When it comes to the lights, it really is about having the perfect weather conditions, especially if you’re in a city where light pollution can make them even harder to see.

If you’re a keen photographer and want to head out of the city on a trip to see the lights, I cannot recommend Arctic Shots enough & you can read about my experience on their northern lights tour here.

 

Spot the Yule Lads

If you’re visiting Reykjavik during the festive period, make sure to keep your eye out for the Yule Lads being projected onto buildings.

The Yule Lads are part of Icelandic folklore. There are 13 of them and 13 days before Christmas, one comes into town each night.

Over Christmas, the Yule Lads can be seen projected onto buildings, which makes a pretty fun kinda treasure hunt; especially if you’ve got kids.

 

Would you add anything else to the list?

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The reflection of Mount Rundle in Two Jack Lake, Banff

To say I am not a morning person is a severe understatement, so I was a little grumpy when Daz dragged me from our warm tent at 7am. He was right though; the view was worth it.

“You need to come and see this,” Daz said to me, trying to coax me out of the tent.

We spend the last couple of nights in Banff camping at Two Jack Lakeside Camground, which I definitely recommend because it’s a beautiful little spot that is just a short drive from Banff.

It was cloudy most of the time while we were in Canada and I was a little annoyed at not having seen a good sunrise or sunset, but this view of Mount Rundle’s perfect early morning reflection in Two Jack Lake more than made up for it.

Mount Rundle from Two Jack Lake

I’m so glad Daz was up early to spot this because it was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I feel like I say that on every post about Canada, but seeing this on our last morning and visiting Moraine Lake were the two high-highlights for me.

Two red chairs at Two Jack Lake, by Mount Rundle, Banff

Red chairs, two jack lake

These are my camping “pyjamas”.

Atop a little hill overlooking Two Jack Lake is two of Canada’s famous red chairs, so if you’re on a mission to sit in all the red chairs, you cannot miss this. Parks Canada has a full list of the red chair locations here.

If you’re stopping in, or visiting Banff, it’s worth visiting Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake. There’s a scenic loop road called “Lake Minnewanka Scene Drive”  just off Highway 1, which is probably a good 15 – 20 minute drive through some stunning scenery. Take note that part of the loop is closed between November – April for conservation reasons; but you’re sure to enjoy the part of the road you can get on.

We loved camping at Two Jack Lake so much that we’re spending a few more nights here while we explore Banff and Canmore some more this summer. Hopefully it will be less cloudy and we’ll be able to see a beautiful pink-orange sunrise or sunset at this spot as well.

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Mount Rundle, Two Jack Lakeside, Banff

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Northern Lights over an abandoned house in Iceland

Seeing the northern lights is probably on most people’s “list”, and that dream finally came true for me in Iceland a few weeks ago.

A few months before heading to Iceland, I came across Arctic Shots; a tour company based in Reykjavik that do trips around Iceland aimed at people who are interested in photography. There are lots of trips to see the Northern Lights from Reykjavik, but what I really wanted was someone who could show us how to photograph it, and Arctic Shots were the guys to do it.

We arrived in Reykjavik during the middle of a storm which lasted a few days, and for a while it looked like we might not see the lights at all. Luckily, the weather forecast was perfect for Friday night and we headed an hour out of the city with our guide, Siggi.

The aurora borealis over a farmhouse in Iceland

After a few minutes, a faint green glow appeared in the sky that got brighter and brighter. To my surprise, I discovered that the lights aren’t always as bright as you see them in photos. So, all these photos I’ve got on here? The lights weren’t really that bright to my naked eye; it’s all down to long exposure. Still, it is truly wonderful to see a green glow flicker across the sky.

We left Reykjavik just after 7pm, and we didn’t get back to our apartment until after 1am (I can’t remember the exact time), so we had a good few hours photographing the lights, and Siggi was on hand to help us with camera settings and any questions. (If you’re not entirely convinced that Arctic Shots are the people to take you to photograph the lights, just look at his photos on his Facebook page. I bet you’re convinced now.)

The northern lights over an abandoned house in Iceland

The northern lights over a farmhouse in Iceland

Northern lights over an Icelandic farmhouse

It was about -7C, so we didn’t spend the entire time photographing. To Siggi -7C seemed like nothing to fuss about, but I have never been so cold in my life and I had so many layers on I could barely move. We spent some time on the bus, and Siggi handed out shots of Brennivin, and Icelandic liquor, and hot chocolate to warm us up before we headed back outside.

Photographing the northern lights in Iceland with Arctic Shots

The northern lights behind a cloud in Iceland

This is by far one of my favourite photos I took of the northern lights

Getting to see the lights with my own eyes was a dream come true for me, and I am so glad the weather turned in our favour just in time. If you’re heading to Reykjavik and want to get some fantastic photos of the lights, and with the lights, I cannot recommend Arctic Shots enough.

Tips

If you’re planning to see the lights, here are a few tips I picked up / learnt the hard way.

  • DO NOT FORGET YOUR BATTERY CHARGER. I still can’t believe I did that. I went to Iceland with no battery charger and only two fully charged batteries. I’m such an idiot. Do not forget your battery charger because the cold weather really zaps your batteries, so make sure you head out with allllllll your batteries fully charged.
  • You don’t need to worry about taking a remote for your camera; just put the timer on a couple of seconds and you’re good to go.
  • Take the filter off. I use my UV filter so much that I forget it’s there. Luckily, Siggi spotted it and my photos came out much better afterwards.
  • Have two pairs of gloves. Before I went to Iceland, I discovered glove liners in Decathlon and they are amazing.

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Seeing and photographing the northern lights in Iceland with Arctic Shots

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Kayaking at Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake boat house

Ok, so this was only the second time I had been kayaking. But, it was significantly less fun than the first time and unless I ever capsize, I think kayaking in heavy wind on Maligne Lake will always be my worst kayaking experience ever.

Before we went to Canada, Daz and I spent a lot of time researching and considering where we wanted to go kayaking in Canada. We settled upon Maligne Lake because it looked incredibly beautiful and we thought it wouldn’t be crowded, because it’s such a large lake.

Maligne Lake

Kayaking on Maligne Lake, Alberta

Granted, Maligne Lake and it’s surroundings are beautiful. It really is. It was the weather that was the problem.

Before we went out, the guy in kayak rentals warned us it might be a bit windy. We’d walked hiked a trail near the lake earlier on and it didn’t seem that bad at all, so like absolute morons we thought “eh, can’t be that bad” and happily got in our kayak.

Happy faces did not last that long. Well, not on my part anyway, as we rapidly discovered that yep, it was pretty windy indeed.

Kayaking on Maligne Lake

Maligne lake from a kayak

We were kayaking against the wind, so trying to go in a straight line was pretty hard and tiring. We would point the kayak in the direction we wanted to go and the wind and waves would just spin us around.

It turns out that I do not handle trying to kayak in a straight line in heavy wind very well and had a small freak out. I was convinced that we were going to capsize, drown and die. Though, I would argue that’s a reasonable fear to have given it was my second time kayaking and I’m not a great swimmer. And like a kid that’s more concerned about their bike when they fall off it, I didn’t want my cameras to get wet!

Maligne Lake in a kayak

Daz managed to calm me down and we did manage to explore a bit more of the lake, and saw other people in boats and kayaks struggling to end up where they wanted to go.  After about an hour of this, we were done for because the wind picked up even more when the lake widened so we couldn’t make any progress and it kept turning us back around. We decided to listen to the wind and headed back. 

Kayaking on Maligne Lake

Much to our annoyance, it took us 10 minutes to get back to the boat house in comparison to an hour it had taken us kayaking against the wind.

Bear at the side of the road in Jasper

A bear at the side of the road in Jasper

As if the universe knew it had some making up to do, we saw a little bear at the side of the road on our drive back to Jasper. There is a happy kayaking story from Canada though, which I will post about soon.

If you’re thinking about kayaking at Maligne Lake, I say go for it; unless it’s windy. If it’s windy, get back in your car and drive away before your brain tells you “it can’t be that bad,” and come back on a calmer day.

Have you ever been kayaking? (If you’re thinking about it, don’t do it in heavy wind.)

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