Posts in the “Kamloops” category...
After soundly sleeping off the effects of the lengthy exertions of the previous day, we headed bright and early to the reopened Concierge Lounge for a final breakfast and lingering look at the Harbour view. We packed and headed to check out, calling ahead to have the Explorer recovered from the bowels of the garage once again.
As is the norm in such circumstances, FCC and MCC were positioned in comfortable chairs while CC deals with the dirtiness of payment. As would become somewhat of a theme of the trip however, this was not a straightforward process. Although the basic bill seemed to be correct, we had been charged in full for the breakfast taken in the restaurant on the Sunday. This despite being a Marriott Platinum cardholder and the Concierge Lounge being closed (which should prompt a credit). I queried this and was somewhat taken aback to be told that there was no credit because the Lounge had in fact been open. When I pointed out that my keycard wallet had been overstamped with the lounge opening times, the times were posted on the door of the lounge and, when checking in, the agent had confirmed the opening times verbally – ie weekdays only – he said I was wrong. I’ve never actually had that in a hotel before, least of all a Marriott, which I normally rate as consistently-good-if-ploddy hotels. So, when I also pointed out that the requested Platinum Amenity of a bottle of wine and tub of ice cream had yet to make it to the room, four days after check in, I was told that I had selected 500 Marriott Reward points as the amenity instead. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
His only offer was an additional 500 MR points, bringing the total to 1000 and, with impatient parents and a 300 mile drive ahead, I left. Worse still, when the points posted, there were only 750. The one unexpected bonus was that the ‘gas’ cards included in the rate ($25 per night = $100) proved to be valid at the Petrocanada chain of filling stations – and we weren’t to be limited to just a local outlet where we would probably have struggled to squeeze the full value of the cards into the tank.
The postscript to this bit of the story is that, having taken the time to subsequently email Marriott Rewards, I had a superb phone call from the Front of House Manager who seemed genuinely keen to repent, and I was somewhat mollified by a 10,000 MR point bung, which I felt reflected more accurately the service failure.
Anyway, time to leave and, it has to be said, not through the most salubrious part of the city as we struck East and headed for the hills. Or, more accurately, the Rocky Mountains. Woohoo.
The first part of the drive along Highway One – The Trans Canada Highway – is through suburbs and then pastoral land of pleasant beauty and general non-descriptness. Only at Hope do things begin to get a little more interesting, as the Fraser River really begins to make its presence known.
The most direct route from Hope to Kamloops is on the (toll) Coquihalla Highway, but our Moon guidebook (purchased in Vancouver, thanks to the Geriatric Meerkats having been lent all the books for the trip months beforehand, and then forgetting to pack them) strongly suggested taking the original Highway One North for more a more interesting drive.
Having not sampled the toll road, it’s impossible to compare, but H1 certainly didn’t disappoint. Our target, for a picnic lunch purchased from the frankly fantastic Urban Fare on Pacific Boulevard in Vancouver, was Hell’s Gate. Once we had enjoyed the laptop repast of bounteous provender, we headed for the entrance to this famous attraction. Every second, more water passes through this 110 feet wide gash in the rock than does over the whole of Niagara. The difference, of course, is that the water at Hell’s Gate is 175 feet deep.
The torrent is reached by way of the Hell’s Gate Airtram, a cable car notable mostly for the fact that it descends from the principal point of departure, rather than ascends. Trams run every 10-15 minutes from the top station, which also contains a Tatarama of fairly low quality. It is therefore something of an achievement for the equivalent emporia at the lower station to be in possession of an even more flea-market air.
That said, the sway down to the river is charming enough and you are then free to mooch around, cross the bridge and have a wander onto the tracks used by the Rocky Mountaineer touring train. In fact, our re-ascendency to the top station coincided with the passing of said train beneath us, including its observation cars and mighty locomotives.
The road on to Kamloops took us through sometimes lofty, sometimes more low lying countryside, forested and fielded but all the time accompanied by both rail and river. It’s largely unremarkable in itself but, all the while, the expectation of the Rockies ahead fills the traveller with anticipation. In fact, the most notable thing about the road would appear to be the prevalence of field after field covered with black netting – a protection, it transpires, for the valuable crop of Ginseng beneath. Who knew?
Our arrival in Kamloops confirmed that which we had expected – a railhead in a wide valley, neither overly industrial nor particularly scenic, but a place which seemed to have a purpose to it. We swung into the carpark of the Four Points by Sheraton, eager to shower and rest – and also to try the adjacent restaurant which had garnered good online reviews from those who had gone before.
The first surprise to be offered by this Holiday Inn Express equivalent was that the restaurant, Ric’s, was not just the hotel’s in-house facility, but in fact part of a rather swanky chain whose outlet we had also noticed during our whirlwind tour of Victoria.
We were met at the door by a porter and Reception had our keycards all ready. As an SPG Gold, we had been upgraded to a two-bedroomed suite which was very acceptable. We had coffee and a freshen and then headed down for dinner, expecting to be able to walk straight in to this Travelodge-attached diner in a backwood town.
As the lift took us closer, we could already hear people and, when we entered the restaurant, it was fairly obvious that, alternatives or not, this was the place to be in Kamloops on a Monday evening. The girl on the desk was clearly unused to out-of-towners and first-timers, and looked at us as if we were nuts for expecting a table hasta pronto. In fairness we were. Since there was no room in the bar either, we were dispatched back to the suite for 45 minutes, in advance of some of the earlier troughers vacating.
Having made it back down, we enjoyed a quite superb dinner of great quality and quantity, friendly service and a pleasant view (helped by the local brew, it has to be said).
The bill, almost uniquely for the trip as it would turn out, was 100% correct upon check out the following morning after a blissful sleep in excellent quality beds. The total, for accommodation and dinner for three, coming to just CAD300.
So, we left early, again spurred on by our guidebook, which suggested that a visit to the Wells Gray Provincial Park would be a worthwhile way to spend some time en route to our next stop, Jasper.
When I say en-route, what I really mean is 120 mile round-trip detour to land us back almost where we started, with the bulk of the journey to Jasper still to face. As it turned out however, it was indeed more than worth it.
The guidebook had mentioned a ‘bakery’, just at the beginning of the Park access road in the town of Clearwater, so this was our dawn chorus target as we struck out on Highway 5 North from Kamloops.
The Flour Meadow Bakery opens at 5am, is housed in a log cabin somewhat hidden in the trees, and is quite obviously a hub for the community. Notices at the entrance advertised for pickers to pluck surplus produce from locals’ back yards for distribution to the needy and, inside, a team of the most friendly staff rustle up a wide selection of delights. We enjoyed wholesome breakfasts and coffee refills at 50c a cup, then ordered gourmet sandwiches for our foray into the park itself.
There are a number of attractions ahead, not least of which are the Helmcken Falls shown above, but the undoubted highlight of our trip was coming across a real live bear.
The weather was by now beautiful, we could catch our first glimpses of Rocky Mountain peaks and then, while quite alone on the dirt park road, the bear lumbered from the trees on the left and began a slow, laborious pad along the roadside. Well briefed, we held back and kept the recommended three bus lengths away. As it moved toward the roadway, it took a cautious look over its right shoulder as if to check for traffic and framed its snout perfectly for an out-of-the-sunroof photograph. It crossed, walked a little further along on the right and then disappeared back into the forest. What a treat.
Wells Gray presented us with waterfalls and lakes, a close-up of a beaver dam and soaring forests. It also teased us with the first tingles of what was to come in the Rockies proper and provided a most favourable venue for our Flour Meadow Bakery lunch.
So, with a little regret at the brevity of our visit, but high hopes for what we were yet to see, we headed back to Clearwater to rejoin the ‘5’ for our hurtle for Jasper. We made time, of course, to stop at the Bakery again for coffee and cake.
As the road heads first North and then East from Clearwater, you are certainly aware of increasing elevation – much before the shoulders of the landscape around you heave themselves up to become more craggy and looming. Ahead of us lay the highest of them all, Mount Robson, and so it was that late in the afternoon we arrived in Yellowhead Pass to see Robson framed majestically by surrounding mountainsides. The National Park Center was by this time closed, but the car park gives chance for a leg-stretch and photo opportunity, albeit slightly obscured by peak-hugging cloud on our visit.
Heading East from Yellowhead brings you to the Jasper National Park gate, where a permit must be purchased if you intend to stop and visit within the Park. Permits are valid until 4pm of your planned exit day and can be extended at National Park Offices within the Park. An Adult permit is currently CAD9.80.
Descending from the Pass, it is no great distance before the town of Jasper approaches, lying within a broad valley bound on all sides by towering peaks. Our home for the night would be the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, the most famous (and salubrious) of all Jasper accommodations and built on the site of the first tourist lodgings in the area, a tented camp erected by the brothers Brewster in 1915.
Occupying a favoured position on the shores of Lac Beauvert, the hotel has been made permanent and developed into a highly-rated property of international repute. Which all rather made our experience a little disappointing. Think absent door staff, limited parking, upgrade to wholly unsuitable room (there were three in the bed, and the little one said – call yourself a 5-star hotel?), inability of hotel concessions to post charges to the main account expeditiously and a complete failure to apply the advertised rate rules (AMEX FHR) at checkout and you do question spending CAD600 for bed and two breakfasts (third person extra).
The upgraded accommodation – Lakeside Junior Suite – was well located and pleasantly furnished, with a reportedly very comfortable bed. The sofabed which had to be pressed into service was less so. The bathroom could be charitably described as pokey and the chalet-style construction was about as sound-proofed as a Millets tent. Signing up online to (free) membership of the Fairmont President’s Club before check in at least afforded complimentary (wired) internet access however.
We grabbed a quick snack in the lobby bar, served by friendly and helpful staff, before retiring just ahead of an avalanche of conference delegates arriving for a post-dinner expenses-fuelled booze-up.
The second check-out battle of the trip ensued after a very acceptable breakfast in the Meadows Restaurant, and we were untroubled once again by any door staff upon departure. Likewise, the much-advertised herds of calving elk which were allegedly a peril to all around, steadfastly refused to show a hoof.