Heading back to Moresby island today in preparation for our boat expedition the following day. We had to go back through Queen Charlotte to get there, meaning we HAD to stop at Queen B’s café, we really didn’t have a choice. First, however, we went for a little mooch around the town. We treated ourselves to another totem pole viewing and saw a truck load of bald eagles circling around above us and chilling on the beach.
As well as a row of ravens sitting next to the kid’s park. I think they wanted to have a go on the slide but thought we’d judge them if they hopped on (I would have FYI).
I had an enchilada at Queen B’s, which was scrummy and topped it off with a slice of pumpkin and pecan pie, which beat that enchilada hands down, even though it was a pretty good enchilada. But ain’t no enchilada as good as no pie. U get me?
We got to our hotel on Moresby Island, which was The Sandspit Inn. My door didn’t really shut, but that was easily overcome by using my total bodyweight to yank it shut after me. If you think about it, it’s pretty much an additional safety feature – no one is going to waltz in and steal my things if the door is too big for the frame and they can’t open it, are they? No, they aren’t. After battling with that for a while, I laid on the bed and vegetated for a while/the rest of the evening.
The evening was turning into night and I was looking forward to bedding down and getting in a good night’s sleep before we started exploring via boat the next day. No sooner than my head rested upon the pillow, did the hotel bar turn into some sort of club and start pumping out all of the bass. I don’t mind a bit of loud music, but it really is a surprise when your hotel turns out to be an absolute slave to the sesh and not the least bit interested in their guests getting a decent amount of shut eye. I can only imagine how loud the music would have been if my door wasn’t quite so snug in the door frame. Silver linings and all that.
We headed to a place called Port Clements today, there’s not much there and to be honest it wasn’t really worth the drive, but we did stop for another slice of pie on the way there (see, told you I’d opened the floodgate). The pie was at a place called Angela’s place, which happened to be another gas station-cum-diner, or a ‘social café and fuel station’ as per the sign.
I’d say that this pie had a better filling than the previous nights, but the pastry wasn’t as nice… So, I can’t say which one was better… I’d possibly lean towards the first one as the whole experience was just a little better.
We stopped to see the Golden Spruce on our way back, which was a GIANT let down. Basically, it used to be this big gold coloured spruce tree, until some proper nut job cut it down in a protest. I’m all for a protest and that, but cutting down a super old one-of-a-kind tree? Nah. You can have a little read about that sitch here, if you’re interested. Anyway, so we went there to look at this stump, which was exactly that – a stump. I’ll give you £1 if you can even see a hint of golden in this pic… thought not.
In this park, there were some huge trees, like, properly massive trees. Well over the wingspan of one girl. Some of them, it probably would have taken about 8 or 9 of you holding hands to go all the way around the tree.
I feel like most of what I talk about revolves around food, but I’m actually fine about that, so here’s some more about food… Because dinner was SO good last night, we went to Sherri’s Gas Bar & Grill again to eat. We had a summer salad, which was mad tasty – I’ve never had raspberries, blackberries, mandarin and nuts in a salad before, but I WILL be having it again, Mouth-watering doesn’t even begin to do this justice.
Following on from yesterday’s crab cakes, I couldn’t help but opt for another crab-containing meal. I had a crab patty burger, which was NEXT LEVEL. It was just… I can’t even describe it, it was so yummy. Moist, perfectly seasoned, beyond fresh. I could wax lyrical about this crab burger for the rest of the day if no one stopped me. Is anyone going to stop me? I tell you what would stop me though; stuffing my face with another crab burger.
Obviously, there was room for pie. Apple pie and lemon meringue pie (promise I didn’t eat both slices on my own). Apple pie was distinctly better than the lemon meringue – nicely spiced, pastry was fierce and the whole thing was just on ittttt.
Yummo. See, pie is becoming a serious problem for me. Like, it may even be an addiction. I’ve had 3 different kinds of pie in 1 day. HELP!
The day started off well with a breakfast of pancakes, streaky bacon and maple syrup. I feel like I haven’t really eaten that much maple since I’ve been in Canada, which is sad, because it is the land of maple syrup. I’d always thought that every single Canadian drank maple syrup like water… maybe I’m wrong… but if I lived in Canada where the maple be good and the maple be cheap, I would not be having the good stuff on a rare occasion.
We headed to Tow Hill (which I naively had thought was ‘Toe’ hill), I don’t know why, but toe on your foot just made more sense to me than towing your car, ya know? Anyway, we headed down there. Down there? Up there? Who knows, but we headed there. We were expressly told not to drive our hire car down any gravel roads, so, naturally, we headed off down a gravel road to this toe place. Once you get there, you have a bit of a hike up the trail to get to Toe Hill. At points, this gets pretty steep, but it’s all on a board walk, so there is no risk of falling to death or anything like that.
We headed to the beach first to have a look at the hill from there, and there is also a ‘blowhole’ on the beach too – but you can only see this do its thing when the tide is midway in, there’s a fair swell, Jupiter is in rising and the North star has combusted.
I decide that merely viewing the blowhole from afar is simply not good enough, one must in fact, climb atop the blowhole to truly experience it. So, I did.
The rock formations here are pretty cool, ngl. It was good to have a mooch around and have a look in the rock pools and scramble around very un-elegantly on various bits of rock I came across.
Next on the list was to hike up the actual hill. Now, this was the steep bit. To say I got a bit of a sweat on would be a gross understatement of the facts. I tried to take a selfie where I didn’t look too hideously warm, but I’m not quite decided on whether that panned out or not – I’ll let you decide on that one.
Once you get up to the top of the hill, it’s a pretty decent view. You can see out across the beach, and see people catching crabs, fishing and digging for clams.
We popped back down the hill (which was distinctly easier than the heart attack inducing haul up) and headed to Agate beach, aptly named, because there’s a tonne of agate to be found on there.
I can’t really say whether this was agate or not, but it looks kinda like it, so we will say it is, just so I can feel pleased with myself.
Dinner was swiftly becoming a priority, so we headed back down the gravel road we shouldn’t have been driving down, hit up the B&B for a change of clothes and bounced out again. We went for dinner at a place one of the women we had met at the top of Toe Hill had suggested. She said you have to look past what you see on the outside, because it essentially looks like a rough old petrol station – which turned out to be the entire truth.
Anyway, it was called Sherri’s Gas Bar & Grill, and it genuinely does look like a run-down old gas station from the outside, but I promise you it is worth going in there – the food there is one of the best meals we had on this trip, if not THE best. I had crab cakes for dinner and the crab was fresh caught that day, and it was DELISH. I can’t even rave about it enough; this crab cake was the best crab cake I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Swiftly followed by a slice of rhubarb and strawberry pie, which had been made by one of the local ladies, which was again, DELISH.
That first slice of pie seemed to open up the floodgates, and much pie was consumed after that point. Much to the detriment of my waistline upon my return home (the scales groaned under the additional weight, I’ll tell you that now).
The next couple of days involved travelling back to Whitehorse, the only notable happening was the consumption of some pickle sticks at the Airport Chalet in Whitehorse. I’ve never had a pickle stick in all my life – in essence, they are sticks of pickle (or gherkin if you are from da UK) which are bread-crumbed and then fried, resulting in the most glorious tasting things I have ever had the fortune to eat in my life.
We experienced a rather wonderful sunset as we were flying back to Vancouver – quite vibrant in colour, and I love the lil moon peeking through.
The following day saw us travelling to Haida Gwaii. Haida Gwaii is what used to be known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, in and around that area there are loads of cool first nation island ruins, where you can see the houses that existed on the islands, old house frontal poles and mortuary poles. First, however, we are heading to Masset where we have a few nights stay at the Eagles Feast House, which is a guesthouse right on the water.
When we land, we have about an hour and a half drive to where we are staying. The island is so peaceful, like, I’ve never been anywhere to tranquil in my entire life. It just has this aura of relaxation about it. The islands are being overrun with deer, and they are everywhere! We saw a little one on our drive toward Queen Charlotte, such a little bambi!
When we were in Queen Charlotte we stopped at this great little café called Queen B’s.
They have daily specials and everything is home-made and delicious. I had hummus, pita, salad and soup, accompanied by a cranberry sparkler.
We took in some totem poles, before arriving at our B&B in Masset, where I had a nice room overlooking the water.
I was looking forward to some downtime in Masset, we hadn’t anything planned, and it would be nice to have a break and just not really do anything. All the travelling we’ve been doing has resulted in a haze of tiredness. So, I settled down that evening for a date with Jake Peralta, of Brooklyn 99 (taking advantage of the free WiFi of course).
When is there not driving to be done? There is always driving to be done. In Canada, one does not simply, not drive. Here, people think 2 hours is a short drive… Like, HUN, 2 minutes is a short drive – 2 hours, and you will need to present a strong business case to gain my attendance.
Anyway, we were heading back to Eagle Plains, which means we were going back through the mountains where it had been snowing a mere day or two prior. Well, when we passed back through that area, it was literally like a different planet. Snow was not a thing, it was well above freezing and there was actual sun.
The only downside to this, was that it was obscenely windy. So windy, that getting a decent selfie was impossible. So windy, that in every single photo of me, you can see my forehead. My forehead is a thing few have seen. Even worse than that, it looks like I have a Rod Stewart mullet going on, which is less than ideal. People were starting to mistake me for dear Rod and began asking for off the cuff renditions of Maggie May (I was only too obliging).
I can’t even describe to you how knotty my hair was after braving the wind at the Arctic Circle sign. It was almost like it had been woven into a mat: that’s how tangled up it was.
Also, how cool is this hazy mountain vibe? It looks like it was born to be on a gallery wall. All the pinks and greys and blue are just everything to me.
We stopped for a bit by the river to have a rest and stretch our legs. I made the MASSIVE error of getting out of the car and going for a wander down the river banks – I experienced major regrets. I don’t usually get bitten by mosquitos, but this was most definitely an exception. If I’d been wearing trousers like a sensible person, then none of this would have happened, but I wasn’t, I was wearing tights. Obvs not just the tights, cos that would be weird, but a tights and dress combo, like a normal person.
I got savaged by these little winged assholes, so, I had some properly mangy looking legs for like a week. Hot or not? Most definitely not. But, on the plus side, I did find a pebble that looked like a heart – so silver linings and all that.
It almost makes the mauled legs worth it… apart from the fact that it really doesn’t.
Had another pretty chilled day today – the place we are staying at keeps huskies, and if you are short on things to do, you can take one out for a walk. So, this is exactly what I did. Let me tell you one thing right now: HUSKIES ARE MAD STRONG. I don’t know why this came as a surprise to me (seeing as they pull sleds for a living) but by the time this walk was over, my right shoulder was dramatically less in the socket than it was when it began.
I even took out one of the smaller ones who was only a year old, but she was still ridiculously strong. Like, it was more like being pulled along by a horse than it was a dog. As a result, I think they should measure things in husky power, rather than horse power.
Even though I’m a fully paid up member of the ‘don’t really like dogs’ club, even I have to admit, these pups were frickin’ cute. Even when they did stop to drink out of puddles which were more mud than water and pause to consume what I think was some sort of moss. Yick.
I even let one eat a piece of dog biscuit out of my flesh and bone hand. But between you and me, that was the 4th bit of biscuit I had provided, after wussing out and dropping the other ones each time the doggo’s face came at me. But don’t tell anyone, please.
After my arm had been stretched sufficiently (if only I could do that with my legs), resulting ruined ligaments and tendons for life, we popped out to find the local car wash. The trouble with the roads around here, is that your car gets properly dusty.
Then, the dust gets everywhere, and when you get out of the car, you end up with mud all over the back of your trousers. Not that that happened EVERY SINGLE time or anything… it’s almost like I never learn.
We’re up nice and early again today, and once I’ve consumed a bucket of coffee and snacked on some more of that granola, we’re on our way to Tuktoyaktuk. Tuktoyaktuk (or ‘Tuk’ if you don’t have all day) is a hamlet which is north of the Arctic Circle, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Until recently you couldn’t access Tuk unless by plane or ice road once the ocean had frozen. Just last year, they built a road, so you can drive all the way there from Inuvik. Because the road is pretty new, there is a low weight limit on it, meaning trucks still can’t get down there. But I am not driving a truck, so I can certainly get down there, and paddling in the Arctic Ocean is pretty tempting isn’t it? Especially when I don’t know a single person who has done that.
So, we head off; the journey takes about 3 hours in total, and let me tell you now, that journey is BORING. The scenery the entire way looks exactly the same, apart from a couple of pingos which appear out of the landscape along the way. A pingo is a mound of ice covered in earth, and this area is known as the ‘land of the pingos’. Yes, there are pingos, but I don’t think there are quite enough to legitimately name the area ‘land of the pingos’… ‘area containing some pingos’ would be much more appropriate I feel, but that is another argument for another day.
The first section of the drive is a little… well, a little uncomfortable, let’s just say that. There are some bitch-ass ruts on this road, and I felt like I was either going to smash my head into the roof of the car or hit myself in the face with my boobs – that’s how bumpy this was. This pic doesn’t do it one iota of justice, but I promise you a smooth ride, it was not.
As we were driving along, we came across a lonely little caribou in the road. I’m not sure if this little one was a girl or a boy, but it was pretty damned cute, so I am going to make her a her. Anyway, she was all on her own, which was kinda sad, because I feel like they aren’t really supposed to be in their own, so I am guessing she missed the rest of them when they made the migration or something… Or maybe she got left behind for some reason. Anyway, I managed to get some cute pics of the little lady, and she went for a bit of a jump around and trot along the road in front of us.
Once she’d sauntered off into the distance, we carried on, eventually arriving at the Tuktoyaktuk sign, for the obligatory pics.
As we drive in, we come to the realisation that the sea if still frozen – we were not expecting this! Usually by now it’s completely melted, but there is a definite amount for freezage going on here. We were booked onto a tour with an Inuvialuit lady, who is native to the area, and called Eileen. Once we have located Eileen, after borrowing a helpful Canadian lady’s phone, she comes and grabs us, and we head to her house. Now, I have to admit, I was dubious about the entire thing. When you arrive here, it really does appear if there is nothing here, not just limited amounts of things, but literally nothing, and in all honesty, it looks a bit of a state.
Eileen serves us up some traditional fare, some of which was edible and some of which was distinctly not, but I am proud to say I tried it all. There was caribou stew, which was surprisingly nice and dried whale meat, which was unsurprisingly un-nice; it just tasted so much like dead whale, I cannot even begin to tell you. We had some muktuk, which is the skin and blubber of a whale and this is genuinely rancid. Eileen was telling us that people cover it in brown sauce, and I can 100% understand why, because you do not actually want to taste that stuff when you are consuming it. Dried musk ox was the chewiest thing I have ever attempted to consume in my life, and I am sorry to say, that one had to come back out of my mouth as there was no chance that was going down the hatch without resulting in much retching. The smoked white fish was genuinely really tasty, and the piece de resistance was the bannock. Oh, the bannock [insert lovestruck emoji here]. If this bannock had DMs, I would be sliding right into those because this was the tastiest thing in the whole of Canada, hands down, no argument. No word of a lie, I am 97% sure I ate an entire loaf of it.
Eileen looking fierce in her mum’s dress parka – who knew there was such a thing as a dress parka?!
Her husband, Billy, took us out into his trappers’ tent and showed us some of the different animals he had trapped in his time. Whilst this was interesting, and really cool to see how they made a living, I’ve not got any pics, because dead cute ‘n’ fluffies actually breaks my heart. We headed back out and went to see the first Tuk sign, which was put there in the 70s, and is in relatively good condition, all things considered. Here we are looking like a few heavies outside da club.
After that, she took us to see her smokehouse which was on the beach, right next to the ocean.
I took this opportunity to remove my shoes and socks and have a paddle in the Arctic Ocean. Just to let you know – it’s cold AF. Like, next level cold, so cold that I have never experienced a chill like it. Icy doesn’t even do it justice!
It’s also really hard to get your shoes back on after you’ve gone for your paddle (as exhibited in the below photographic evidence).
Your feet are numb to the core and the pebbles are massive and the whole thing is a bit of a palaver; but it is SO worth it, just to say you did it. Even if I did get a higher than desired level of silt in my suede shoes.
You may have noticed that I missed a day out, if you did – then thank you for religiously reading this – you and the one other person who isn’t my mum should probably get married or something. Anyway, the reason I missed a day out, is because on that day I did literally nothing. I didn’t wake up until about 1pm, and for a couple of reasons; firstly, because the sun is up here until about 1am, and secondly, because all the driving had knackered me.
When I did wake up, I sat in bed and read my book, replied to a bunch of messages and emails, progressed to watching re-runs of Friends, Will & Grace and 2 and a Half Men and then ate a fat bag of granola and drank about a gallon of coffee. All in all, a pretty productive day, wouldn’t you say? I needed a break in all honesty – holidays are tiring when you are on the move constantly, never sleeping in the same place for more than a couple of nights, driving and straining your eyes looking for the non-existent wildlife of British Columbia.
The next day I managed to rise from my coffin at a slightly more reasonable time, but in all honesty, achieved about as little. What I did achieve, however, was the consumption of food. There aren’t many places to eat in Inuvik, in fact, the only options you have are a couple of hotels and one family-run restaurant. If I were you, I wouldn’t bother with the hotels and I’d stick with the family-run, which is called Alestine’s, if you’re interested.
Alestine’s is only open from 5pm-8pm in the evenings, so make sure you get there on time. This place is a cute little shack on Franklin Road, where they do all their cooking out of the back of a bright yellow school bus.
The service is friendly, and you’re served by the wife of the family, who is rushed off her feet constantly because of the popularity of this place. They have about 5 main course options on the menu and one dessert, which are given to change as and when things are in and out of season, or when the chef fancies something different. We entered in and who else did we see sitting in there, but Susan and Michael! We promptly park ourselves down on their table and ask them what’s good on the menu. After taking that in, I order the fish tacos at the recommendation of Susan. I’ve never had fish tacos, but when in Rome and all that…
My fish tacos soon arrived, and boy did I enjoy them. They came with fries (as does everything in Canada) and they were filled with fried white fish, mango salsa and a light coleslaw. YUM!! I wolfed those down in about 8 seconds flat, got my hands covered in sauce and ended up with chutney all round my face – so it was a good meal for sure. It took all my mental strength to try and not wipe my hands on my trousers. I’ll leave you to decide for yourselves whether I managed that or not.
I’m so bad with wiping my hands on my trousers. I KNOW I shouldn’t be doing it, but I literally cannot help myself – the desire is too overwhelming. It’s clearly much more ladylike and polite to wipe ones’ hands upon a napkin of a serviette, but I just feel like my trousers really do the job better, and it’s obviously way better for the environment if I shun all serviettes and refuse to use them. That practically makes me an eco-warrior, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it??????
Overnight it continued snowing, and when I looked out the window in the morning there was still a smattering of snow. I’d been looking forward to being snowed in and having to dig the car out and put on the snow-chains to be honest – but no such luck. All I got was to slip about a foot on the metal grid out the front of the hotel #MichelleODrama. Because it’s all kindsa of mountainous between here and the next stop (Inuvik) we decided to set off with an American couple we’d met in the hotel, called Michael and Susan. Safety in numbers and all that!
Because I’m a born daredevil, I opt to drive first and lead the pack as such. No sooner do we get down the hill from the hotel, does all the snow disappear – muchos dissappointios! However, in the place of the snow, was a sludge you would be hard pressed to call a road. There were some spots which were black-ice-level slippery. Some impressive skids were done in the 4×4. I think I pretty much held my breath for the entire drive – that’s how hard I was concentrating.
We start climbing up towards the Arctic Circle, the snow has made a reappearance and the temperature is dropping big style. By the time we reach the Arctic Circle sign it’s -5 degrees Celsius, the wind-chill factor making it a cool MINUS 20!!!! Chilly does not even cover it. The sign appears out of the snow and we pull over to get some pics. Now, this was a dramatic 10 minutes, even for me. I stop the car and I get out… And only I get out… It turns out that in the cold and snow, the passenger door and the rear doors have frozen shut and we can’t get them open. No amount of tugging is opening those bad boys, so an amount of clambering had to be done to exit the vehicle.
I was desperate for a wee by now, so I headed to the loo. It’s so windy here, I was almost blown past the lav – but I made it in eventually, after a long battle with the door. I get in there, and the loo seat is covered in snow. This is something I have NEVER experienced in all of my loo visits. A good inch of snow stands between my bare arse and the toilet seat… Hovering seems a good idea at this point.
After a tricky few minutes I exit the loo, struggling to do my trousers up in the freezing conditions, only to hear Michael (the American guy) shouting though the wind at me “Bonnie, do your trousers up! You are bringing the Arctic Circle into disrepute!”. Needless to say, this did not help me with doing my trousers up – not only were my hands frozen, they were now jiggling around uncontrollably as a result of intense laughter. And I was trying to run.
It was way too cold to get any decent photos, so we accept that we will have to stop on the way back and get the pics. Seriously weak selfie game was exhibited.
Ooh, I forgot to mention! When I got out of the car here, I got a high 5 from Michael saying I was a great little driver. Never has anything made my life more than this did. He is my new fave person.
I carried on driving and I’m not going to lie, it got beyond terrifying. Obvs I loved how terrifying it was, but it really was scary. It started snowing heavily and visibility was non-existent. All I could see in front of me was white, and the occasional flash of the lights on the RV we’d come up behind. Driving down this road, the wind was whipping up the snow from beside the road, meaning I couldn’t see where the road was or where the other cars were.
There isn’t anywhere you can stop, and even if you did stop, you run the risk of getting hit by another car who just hasn’t seen you in the snow – so I press on. This was white knuckle – I’m not gonna lie. When I eventually got out of the car, my hands were screaming in pain from how hard I’d been gripping the steering wheel. Even though I thought I might vom from the fear, it was EPIC and I would drive through another snowstorm in a heartbeat.
After the treachery of the icy mountains, the rest of the drive was pretty mundane. We crossed over on a ferry, entered into Port McPherson and stopped for something to eat at the tourist centre. Again, there’s hardly anything here, but a break was definitely required, and the local food cooked at the tourist centre was really yummy, making it worth the stop. They had bannock, soup and fish, all done on the BBQ, and they had a tipi set up that you could have a look in. One of the guys explained about putting up the tipi and told us it was his first time – pretty good for a first attempt I think!
As we were coming into Inuvik (which was to be our home for the next couple of days), we paused to stretch our legs. There was a short hike, which I opted for, turning out to be the most non-event hike of my life.
A lot of climbing and a whole load of nothing to see, apart from hella bear poo. But a selfie at the top was required all the same. Selfie game much closer to being ok point.
We arrived in the evening at Arctic Chalet, Inuvik, which was where we were staying. We had clearly interrupted the woman who runs its dinner, and she did not seem best pleased.
Apologising profusely to Judy, we were handed some keys and pointed in the direction of some wooden cabins, where snow-covered loo seats haunted my dreams.
Today’s the day we start the serious driving. Our aim on this trip is to reach the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk in the North West Territories – it’s about as far as you can go without actually plopping into the ocean. The first leg of the journey is to travel from Dawson City to Eagle Plains and you’re driving on the Dempster Highway. Again, ‘highway’ is a fierce stretch for what is actually a gravel road. We’re hoping to see some wildlife along the way – it’s not a massively busy road, on account of the number of people wanting to drive in the wild wilderness being relatively slim, so we are thinking our chances are pretty good. We really should have learned by now, that we are not blessed with frequent and numerate animal sightings… but we started our travels with high hopes nonetheless.
There weren’t many places to stop on our previous journeys, maybe one or two gas stations and places to eat along the way. On the way to Eagle Plains, there really is nowhere to stop. There is nowhere to get a drink, there is nowhere to get something to eat and there is nowhere to get gas, so make sure you fill up before you go. It’s about 400km and it takes about 7 hours – less if you drive like your 18-year-old son, and more if you drive like your 81-year-old nan. The first place to stop off along the way is Tombstone Interpretive Centre, here you can learn about the wildlife in the area, stop for a rest and grab yourself a cup of Labrador tea from the stove. Labrador is a plant btw, not the dog.
There’s a few trails around this area, but because it was a bit miz on that day, we didn’t opt for anything strenuous. We followed the Beaver trail along to a beaver dam, in the hope that we would spot some of the toothy little fellows.
As I am sure you have already guessed, we did not. The most we saw was a sign of beaver habitation – a gnawed stump of tree.
The dry spell continues, as do the heart crushing feels. A chipmunk would do at this point… ANYTHING!! Whilst I was waiting patiently for a beaver to swim by (none did), I did see a squirrel (which I bet you can’t even see in this pic) and a bird. WOOHOO!! Not. No offense squirrel and bird, but we have you at home and you just aren’t what we made the journey for.
We continued along our way, keeping our eyes peeled for bears, moose and the like. We came across a creek; a red creek. This creek is red because it’s essentially rusty, which is pretty neat and it really stands out in comparison to the hundreds of very non-red creeks we had driven past that day.
So much of the scenery Is gawj, but as it was drizzling constantly there weren’t a lot of good photo ops.
After many, many hours of driving, we make it to Eagle Plains… just as it starts to snow. Now, we had heard that snow had been a possibility, but only on the high grounds, so we had thought we weren’t going to see any of those white flakes. Well, it turns out that Eagle Plains is pretty much atop a mountain, so snow shouldn’t really have been that unexpected.
It’s chilling right down now, and we’re glad to get inside the one and only hotel in Eagle Plains – the Eagle Plains Hotel (no one messed around with a creative name for that one, did they?). The most interesting thing about this place is that it was built in the 80s and not a single thing has been done to it since. There is a fairly large crack in one of the windows in the dining room which has probably been residing there since about 1984. Amusingly, in the dining room the tables come equipped with a miniature sled containing your sugar, coffee cups, pepper and salt (with an extraordinary amount of rice in it). When I say extraordinary – I mean the salt to rice ratio was pro rice.
This is the only place to get food, so you have to eat here, but they have a relatively decent menu considering they are in the arse end of nowhere, and they have daily specials too. In the bar you are greeted to what I would imagine is approximately a national parks-full of taxidermy mammals. On the plus side, we did finally see a moose… Positively devilish don’t you think?
Last night we went for dinner at Klondike Kates restaurant in Whitehorse. We are told it’s the best restaurant in town, but I’m slightly disinclined to agree with that. The food was nice, and the service was friendly, but it was no better than anywhere else we ate. In fact, other places were more fun and enjoyable. I don’t know whether it was entirely down to the atmosphere inside, and in my opinion, some of the other restaurants are better.
After we’d eaten, we went for a walk that someone in the hotel had recommended. To get to the walk, you have to cross over the river on the ferry, oh, and it’s a really easy walk.
The ferry comes and goes as there are people to use it, so if you wait there, they’ll come and get you, which is neat. We crossed over as foot passengers on the ferry, which takes about 10 minutes once you set off. Also, here ferry guys though – we watched this ferry go across so many times and not once did they make a single mistake. I swear they actually must be Gods or something… because it was genuinely impressive!
Once you come off the ferry and walk up the road, to get to the walk you need to take the first left into the campground. Keep walking through the campground until you see a yellow gate (a 10 or 15 minutes’ walk). Head through the yellow gate and down towards the beach – on your left-hand side there will be a break in the trees and you can cross a stream over a little bridge and you’ll be walking next to the river.
Across the river, you can look at the hills and keep your eyes peeled for some wildlife! Obviously we saw a grand total of nothing, in-keeping with the rest of the holiday.
As you walk along, you’ll come to some steamboat wrecks on your left. These were left here at the end of the gold-rush when they were no longer needed (they were beached on the banks of the river and have been left there).
These are pretty cool to look at – there are a few of them there at different stages of dilapidation – the ones further back are in better condition. I went for a bit of an investigate and wandered round the back and climbed up on top of one of them to have a look.
The sunset is beaut here, coupled with the fact that it never really gets dark (it was 20 hours of sunshine when I was there), so you can still walk around happily at 10/11 o’clock at night.
The next morning we went across on the ferry again, but this time by car. We wanted to drive up the Top of the World Highway and take a photo of ourselves next to the sign… so we drive for a while and didn’t find the sign, and we drove for a while more and didn’t find the sign… turns out the sign is no longer there… so we drove a LONG while for literally no reason! But, we did find some snow, so that was a win, kinda.
I took the opportunity to stake my claim on the snow, with a classic year 8 ‘Bonnie was here’. Do not judge me…
And a couple of people threw some snowballs at me… Hmpf… bullies!
We popped to Sourdough Joe’s for dins – FYI no sourdough is served here, despite the name. The food was yummay here and IMO it’s the best restaurant in Dawson City. It’s got a chilled vibe and it’s a bit of fun, making for a very enjoyable dinner.
After that we headed back to the hotel and popped into the bar. They have a guy who plays some tunes at the piano each night from 7 until 9, and I have never seen a man enjoy playing the piano more than this guy does.
Some jaunty tunes, a couple of Yukon Gold’s later and some money in the tip jar, made for a great end to the evening.
Breakfast was calling me, and Riverwest Bistro answered with a breakfast burrito. If you’re looking for places to eat in Dawson City, Riverwest Bistro has plenty of options. It’s a bit of a diner joint and it’s by no means upmarket, but the coffee was fresh, and the food was good, so you’ll have no complaints from me.
We went for a mooch about the town, stopping off in the Northwest Territories Visitor Centre. This place was really good, the lady working there (Dawn) was incredibly informative and hugely knowledgeable – it’s worth popping in there if you need some information about the drive up the Dempster Highway.
Whilst we were in there, we got to talking and she mentioned that there were some cyclists heading up the same way as us who needed a food package dropped off, as it was too heavy for them to carry with them. We offered to take their food package up with us, and feeling like exceedingly good citizens, we headed off with the food package (which turned out to be pretty damn heavy after you have been carrying it for 20 minutes). I can only imagine they were concealing bricks in their food package for some unknown reason.
To fill up our afternoon, we booked ourselves onto a goldmining tour. We had wanted to go on a trip with a native guy in a boat, but he was all booked up – so that was a no go. A shame, to be honest, because we’d been recommended this in the visitors centre and they seemed genuinely excited about it, so we were a bit disappointed, but you can’t have everything. We chose a tour with Goldbottom Mine Tours, departing at 1.30. I have to be honest, I wasn’t bowled over by this tour – I think it was lacking a little something. However, I do think you should go on a gold mining tour whilst you are here. Gold mining is the entire reason this town exists and it’s worth getting to know a bit about it, and the tour was still enjoyable, even if it wasn’t outstanding.
I’ll tell you a little bit about what goes down during the tour. You start off outside the tour office and head up the road to the Goldbottom Mine site (it’s a bit of a bumpy ride). Whilst you’re travelling, the guide talks about the mining history of the area before you stop off at the site and switch your shoes for wellies. The tour guide takes you for a look around the old house there, which is full of cool artefacts and has been done out to look like it would have back in the day.
You head up to a mining site which is in use at the moment and if you are lucky, you’ll get to talk to one of the guys who is mining there. We spoke to a guy named Dale, who told us about the machinery he was using and how much gold he was extracting on a daily basis – this was by far and away the best bit of the tour.
After that we headed back to the Goldbottom Mine site and he showed us how you separate the gold you have panned for from the black sand and other bits and pieces you end up with. This was interesting, and apart from the rude American woman basically rugby tackling me in a bid to get a photo, went off without a hitch. Once we were done with that, the tour guide showed us a huge nugget of gold which one of the people who owned the mine had found.
Here the rude American lady saga continues. We’re standing listening to the guy explaining about the nugget and she’s standing behind me, and I can feel her touching my hair. I pass it off as an accident and continue listening. Then she touches my hair again… Now I know this clearly is no accident, like, she’s kind of tugging on it – does she really think I can’t feel this? Hey, rude American lady – that’s actually attached to my head you know!!!!! CREEP. I end up having to move because I can’t actually address this out loud in front of all these people. The funny thing is, I’m pretty used to people touching my hair; people ALWAYS touch my hair. But, it’s usually accompanied by a verbalisation of the hair touching intentions, such as, ‘isn’t your hair long’, or, ‘isn’t your hair a pretty colour’. One does not simply touch another person’s hair in creepy silence. So, I placed myself out of reach of silent hair stroker and pretended it never happened.
Now it was time for panning for gold! This is where I came slightly unstuck, as I didn’t really know what I was doing and the man just kind of left you to it. I think they could do with working on this section of the tour, as I wasn’t the only one who found this frustrating. Eventually he came back and explained, but I was already miffed by this point, so I enjoyed it less than I wanted to. Also, Goldbottom Mine Tours, if you’re listening, a hot drink and a snack wouldn’t go amiss at some point in the tour. Whilst we are getting sorted with our wellies, it would be easy to sort out some tea and coffee and a biscuit, which I know would be appreciated by your tourists. Oh, and if you could weed out the hair strokers beforehand, that would be GREAT.
Today is the day we go to Whitehorse! This is where the holiday bit of the holiday begins. As nice as it is, when you’re with family, it’s not the same as actually being on holiday. This is where we’re beginning our journey up through the Arctic circle and all the way to Tuk, so I can paddle in the Arctic ocean. Woohoo!!
Having got up at ridiculous o’clock (turns out you can still screech to a halt at red lights when there’s no traffic on the road) and arrived at the airport and made it through security, I was on the hunt for some breakfast. After having a wander round the available options, something caught my eye – something I thought too good to be true… FRUIT SALAD!! Never have I enjoyed a plastic cup full of fruit, in an airport, so much in my entire life. Honestly, I could feel the threat of scurvy leaving my body and I felt as if I could conquer the world. It really is amazing how much of a difference vitamin C makes to your existence.
We jumped on a prop plane and flew a couple of hours to Whitehorse. I was sat next to a guy who was backpacking… Well, I don’t actually know if he was a backpacker, but he certainly smelled like he was backpacking (unwashed clothes have such a distinctive smell). Safely arrived, we picked up our car from Go North Car & RV Rental. There aren’t many options when it comes to car rental in Whitehorse and the reason we used them was because they were the only rental company that would give us a full size spare tyre. Why is this important? Well, most of the roads we would be driving on are going to be ‘all weather roads’, which essentially means gravel and potholes. Services are few and far between, so if you get a flat, you aren’t going to get to the next spot with a donut tyre.
Once we get there, we check in at our hotel: Town and Mountain Hotel, Whitehorse. Again, there aren’t a tonne of options when it comes to places to stay in Whitehorse, but it was clean, so no complaints (and there was decent Wi-Fi)! Oh, quick thing – all hotels here look like they were built in the 70s and haven’t changed since, and that would be because they WERE built in the 70s and HAVEN’T changed since. All the artex and chintzy bedspreads you could wish for.
I’m properly rav by now, so we head out to find some lunch. We come by a place called the Burnt Toast Café and liking the look of it, head in. The walls are black and there’s rock music pumping out of the door, based on that, the food has got to be tasty, right? And I was right [insert drooly emoji here].
To continue staving off scurvy, I opted for a salad – but to be honest, the whole menu sounded DELICIOUS and based on everyone else’s food I saw coming out, it looked it too. I had the Gnarly Barley salad, which came with goats’ cheese and a maple and balsamic dressing; I can’t even begin to explain how yummy it was.
We went for a mooch around the town and had a look the gift shops… I’m still waiting for something to jump out at me to buy, I’ve not seen anything which speaks to me yet. We were looking for something to do for the rest of the afternoon; having read about the Takhini hot springs, we decided we’d give that a try. We got beyond lost trying to get there and ended up having to stop and ask someone. Let’s just say, that signage in Canada seems to be pretty much non-existent, rendering it nigh on impossible to locate anything if you don’t know where it is (much driving around was done).
Eventually we located it (FYI it’s further away than you think it is) and went for a dip. It cost $12 to get into the Tahkini Hot Springs and I think it’s worth it. There are two different hot pools at Takhini; one warm one and one hot one. It’s not glam here, but it’s relaxing and out in the open with a nice view. It would be amazing here in the ice and snow and they even have a ‘best frozen hair’ competition… I may be returning… To make it even more enjoyable there was a cute little chipmunk hanging around at the side of the pool having a snack. They are SO cute, AND it didn’t run away as I splashed over in its direction to stare at it (if only people were like that too).
After a hard day of lounging, it was time for dinner – turns out you can work up quite an appetite doing 100% of nothing. There was only one other place which stood out to eat: Klondike Rib and Salmon.
It’s hella popular and you can’t book – so there might be a bit of a wait, but that’s good – a wait means people love it! I had the special, which was 2 salmon skewers, a half rack of ribs, focaccia, garlic mash and roasted vegetables.
It was SO yummy, and SO much food; more food than a human should consume, I’m sure (of course, I ate it all). It’s fun in there, it’s a laugh and it’s bustling and busy, accompanied with great food – what’s not to like? If you’re looking for places to eat in Whitehorse, this is the one.
I have literally no idea what I did on the 5th June. All I have in my camera roll is a photo of maple syrup biscuits… Which, by the way, are hella tasty, so you should definitely get some if you happen to be in a supermarket in Canada. All this photo tells me, is that I must have been in a Walmart. That can’t have been ALL I did for an entire day, can it? I’ll have to have a think about it, I’m sure I’ll remember.
All I do know is, that getting up at 4.30 am to go to the airport to catch a flight to Whitehorse is looming. Oh wait, we went whale watching! That explains why I don’t have any photos on my iPhone – they are all on the camera camera, because there isn’t much of a chance of you getting a good photo of a whale in the ocean on your iPhone, no matter how good a photographer you are.
It was about an hour and a half’s drive from Vancouver to Steveston. Which is where we managed to catch a whale watching tour with Vancouver Whale Watch. We didn’t book, and we were fortunate to get the last 3 spaces on the boat which was just about to go out – close call! There are a few companies you can book with if you are interested in whale watching in Vancouver – they are all pretty similar and follow the same whales. It was a little bit of a grey day, but I was hoping that the lack of sunshine wasn’t going to stop the whales from coming out to play.
On our way out to sea we saw a few California seals chilling on some rocks; as much as I would like to like California seals, they are really not a pretty sight. I’m all for any kind of animal, but they aren’t about to win any beauty contests – cute they are not.
However, they do look pretty regal and commanding up on those rocks, even if they do STINK of fish… you can certainly smell them before you see them.
We picked up the pace, heading out to sea at a fair clip, looking for some orca, or killer whales. Now, these are my absolute fave marine animals – they are so unbelievably clever, and they have some serious emotions going on – I’ve no idea how you couldn’t love these guys. They all hunt in different ways, for different prey, depending on what is abundant in the area in which they exist. It’s so cool how they live together in their pod as a tight knit family unit, communicating all the time with one another. It’s so cool to listen to as well and we know so little about what they are saying to one another; it’s pretty majestic.
There were a couple of pods in the area and these are whales which live in the area. We found the pod we were looking for, made up of about 5 orcas and they had some little ones in tow.
It’s wonderful watching them surface; they are SO beautiful and it’s especially wonderful seeing the little one with its mummy. We also got to see the little one breach, picking up some pace and flinging himself out of the water and re-entering with a big splash! Unfortunately, I missed the photo opportunity – better luck next time!
We spent a long time with that pod, sitting and watching them in all their glory. Rolling around in the water and having what seemed like some good fun. After a while, we needed to start heading back, so we turned around and started making our way, stopping to see some harbour seals sunning themselves on some logs.
These guys are so much cuter than California seals, they are so chubby and roly-poly with massive eyes and they are just how you want a seal to look.
As we were heading back, we caught up with another pod of orca and these ones were much more active! Tails were coming out of the water and slapping back down, and they were a lot closer to our boat as well.
The little ones in this pod seemed to be having a whale of a time (pun very much intended).
Seeing this makes it all very much worth it. You never know what you are going to get with whales. They could be really active, or they could be calm and relaxed, but either way, it’s always a good experience and something well worth doing.
An interesting night’s sleep is the only way I can explain it. I was on a sofa bed, and I’ll have to say that ‘sofa bed’ is a bit of a stretch here – it’s really just like sleeping on the floor, but with a bit of foam underneath you. Now, my issue here isn’t comfort (it’s actually surprisingly comfy to sleep on), more the proximity to the floor. If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of dogs, in particular the smaller varieties. My mum’s cousin has two rescue dogs, and unfortunately, they’re of the small variety and they sleep in the front room, not too far away from the sofa bed. Now you see my issue with the proximity to the floor?
I could hear them breathing, I could hear them rustling, I could hear them looking at me. I laid as still I could just in case my movement stirred one of them (if anyone even thinks of moving during the night, the bark alarms go off). I even slept with my trainers in the bed next to me on that night, for fear of them being sniffed by an unwanted snoz. Eventually I got over my crippling fear of tiny dogs and managed to get to sleep – but only after I’d taken the battery out of the clock which was insisting on incessantly ticking right next to my head. For some reason I woke up about 4am; I’ve no idea, but I couldn’t get back to sleep so I sat up and read my book for a bit (the lines now distinctly less blurry) until it was time for some breakfast.
We headed out to Granville Island after breakfast. We got majorly lost on the way there, not helped by the fact that my mums cousin seems to shun all technology, so there was no sat nav to follow and no Google maps to consult. After a while of driving around aimlessly, hoping that the right road materialised in front of us, we stopped off at a gas station to ask for some directions and got on our way to Granville Island (now heading in the right direction). It was a bit of a miserable day in all honesty and Granville Island is cute, but there’s not a tonne of stuff there – certainly not enough to keep you there for the whole day. There’s a market where you can buy crafts, fresh fruit and veg and all sorts of different foods. There’s also a few gift shops, galleries and boutique shops which are nice for a mooch around.
There are also some cool silos there which have been painted by a couple of Brazilian street artists who are brothers, from Sao Paolo. These silos are at the Ocean Concrete factory and are a bright and colourful injection.
After we were done there, we had a little drive through Stanley Park. It would be a great place to hire a bike and cycle round (we saw a load of people doing this), but the drizzle was turning to rain now, so a cruise round in a Jeep would have to suffice. But here’s what it looks like when it’s not raining.
After that, we popped up Burnaby Mountain to have a look at some of the totem poles. It was still pretty overcast, which was a shame, but that didn’t stop me taking a totem pole pic.
Oh, I’d almost forgotten – on that day, we’d also gone up to walk over the Capilano suspension bridge. We got there, and we were gobsmacked at the price; the tickets were just shy of $47… Having been over it before when I was a kid, we bypassed it based on the price. Extortionate! If I hadn’t been over it before, I’d have probably forked out for it, but bearing in mind that this is ONLY for entry to a national park and a walk over a suspension bridge, legalised robbery sprang to mind.
First thing we saw today were a couple of giraffes having a cuddle. I’m sure they weren’t really having a snug, but that’s what it looked like to me, so that’s what I’ll say they were doing. Anyway, it looked CUTE, with their necks kinda twisted together.
We were out looking for a leopard today. There had been some sightings, and we were combing the area looking out for those beautiful spots. The other guests who were in the truck with us hadn’t seen a leopard yet, and they hadn’t done any other game drives, so the ranger was trying his best to find one.
We found some more elephants. There were two young boys play fighting with one another, which was so cool to see. I’d never seen them do that in real life – they were just like human teenage brothers! They were pushing and shoving each other and one of them turned and ran into the bush, swiftly followed by a tusk in the rump from his playmate.
They thundered off into the trees and we could hear them messing around in there; crashing into trees and crashing into each other it seems. There was a little one in the herd who was just staring to learn to use his trunk to strip leaves from branches. It was so endearing watching him learning. Struggling to control his trunk and tackle the branches, was just CUTE. They are so like humans in so many ways.
We stumbled upon a hyena laying out in the open. He was so chilled, and it turns out he wasn’t far from their den – so it looked like he had been kicked out. Maybe he came home late or something and Mrs Hyena wasn’t happy? Who knows!
Not long after that, we got a call telling us there were some hyenas feeding on a baby giraffe. They couldn’t tell whether the hyenas had taken down the giraffe themselves or whether they had snaffled it off of a leopard. Poor little giraffe. But that’s life I guess – and it’s interesting even if it is a bit horrible, so we decided to head over there to take a look.
On our way over there we hit a roadblock, a giraffe roadblock. There were 6 giraffes standing in the road in front of us, and more to the left and the right of us. They were non-movers.
We had to wait until the one at the front decided they were going to follow the rest of the group, and ran towards us and went to our left. Soon the others followed suit and the road was clear. These guys were probably the group that the little one was taken from – which would explain why they were acting kinda strangely.
We got to where the hyenas were feeding on the baby giraffe and they were all laying around on the ground. Their tummies were so full that they couldn’t get up, they looked like they had swallowed footballs! They were fit to burst, and all they could manage was to lift their heads and glance at us when we arrived.
They soon lost interest in us when the pups arrived and started squabbling over the remains of the giraffe. Mum had to wade in, and one of the little ones didn’t take kindly to her interference and started trying to bite her ankles – which was hilarious to watch. He was snapping and snarling at her as she tried to stop them arguing with one another.
This was a really nice sighting for our last one of our holiday. We have been really lucky with everything we have seen. Seeing the Big 5, then the Super 7 and only being one off seeing the Dangerous 9. All we need to do is stumble upon a Nile crocodile and we will have a full set (somehow, I don’t think that is likely). Some of the sightings we have had of these animals have been one of a kind and once in a lifetime kind of sightings. They haven’t just been glimpses of tails and ears in the bush, 300 metres away. We have seen animals up close and doing their thing. Which is beyond amazing.
I am really going to miss waking up each morning and seeing all these amazing animals. Going back home and opening the curtains to the odd one-legged pigeon and urban fox rummaging through a bin, isn’t quite the same. I’m sad to leave. I’m really, really sad to leave.
After yesterday’s game drive, some elephants visited my tent. Eek! As it happened, I was in the shower. The showers have glass doors which look out into the bush, so, if an animal happens to wander by, you can see them whilst you are having a shower. An elephant walked past, just as I was rinsing the conditioner out of my hair. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Do I run for the camera? Do I just carry on washing my hair?? Do I just stroll out there naked??? Who knows.
In the end, I grabbed a towel and wrapped it round me, and walked onto the veranda, dripping with water, to watch the elephant go about its business. It wandered on by, and went to find some food down the other end. I was just about to get in the shower when another elephant appeared. I wasn’t going to let this one go without a photo, so I grabbed the camera from inside.
The elephant walked down towards me, stopping to snack on some leaves and things as it went. I think it stopped to look at me for a bit, we made some pretty intense eye contact, and then the elephant wandered on by.
Another one came down, and the same thing happened, but there was less pausing this time. I guess because the other ones had proved it was safe to come through, so the elephant didn’t feel the need to eye me up in such great detail.
That afternoon on the game drive, we also saw rhinos. I’m not going to put any photos on here, because of the whole poaching sitch, and I don’t want to be the person that hashtags it on Instagram and points poachers in the right direction.
But we saw white rhino and we saw black rhino too. Funny story actually, we had seen the white rhino and we were driving off to our next port of call. I just happened to look over my shoulder, and I saw some rhino running along behind us. I had just assumed they were the same ones, so I didn’t say anything, and as it happens, the girl behind me in the truck saw them too and we both thought the same. It wasn’t until one of the guys told us what we were looking for, that we both piped up and said we had seen them.
The guys practically had their jaws on the floor, and I don’t think they believed us at first. But low and behold, there they were. Cool little fact about the rhinos, they are actually called wide lipped and hook lipped. It is thought that the Afrikaans word for wide was accidentally mistranslated to white, and from then on, they were called black and white. Another theory, is that because the black rhino is so aggressive, people thought it had demons in it, and it was possessed. And that the black and white thing was a bit of a ying/yang concept.
The next morning was out last game drive here in Thornybush game reserve, and I will be really, really sad to leave the Chapungu camp. As it was the last day, we decided to go searching for the final thing on our list; cheetah. The last cheetah sightings were way down in the south of the camp, literally as far as you could go. It was going to be a really long drive there to try and find these guys.
We drove for what seemed like forever. We stopped for a coffee and a leg stretch at a watering hole with some hippos in it. I was about half way through my coffee, when Jacques (the ranger) herded us into the truck and packed all of the coffee stuff up. We were driving at the speed of light, bouncing over the bumps in the road and narrowly avoiding thorny trees and branches. We slowed down and approached another truck which was stopped on the side of the track.
On our left-hand side was a female cheetah, making her way along through the bush. Shortly followed by 4 cubs [insert major heart explosion here]. These little ones weren’t even 2 months old yet, and they were still sooooooo teeny.
They are heart meltingly cute. They little tails stick up in the air when they run and they are so fluffy. They were all bounding around and playing with each other, just like little kittens. They were scrambling up trees, pushing each other out of them, and clambering back up again. They break my heart. It’s like they hold actual power over me.
We couldn’t get close because they were so small, and the guys don’t disturb them when they are that little. But just seeing them playing with each other, was enough to seal the deal for me, and ensure that I would definitely be coming back here again.
I didn’t want to leave the camp, I’ve had such a wonderful time there. I just wish I could stay on forever. It’s the best place.
We were up and away quickly this morning and out looking for a leopard. The guys were determined to find one this morning, and I think they were willing to go on all day to look for one of these elusive cats. We started off where we had lost the male leopard last night, and spotted a couple of warthogs on the way, having a munch.
It turns out, he is new to the area and hasn’t quite established a territory yet, so he is keeping himself to himself. We followed some tracks, but they disappeared across some hard ground, and we couldn’t see which way he had gone from there.
We drove down the riverbed looking for more tracks. It seemed that the leopards had been out in force this morning and there were loads of calls on the radio for leopard tracks leading in every direction. Out of nowhere, we were racing down the riverbed. Someone must have heard something on the radio! A leopard had been spotted, and the guys weren’t taking the chance of a leopard eluding us again.
You could tell how excited the guys were, and we raced towards where this leopard had been spotted. We rounded the bend and you could see her. Wow. She was so gorgeous. And accompanied by her 6-month-old male cub. OMG!! I nearly had a heart attack there in my seat. I love cats at the best of times, but these kitties are so beautiful. The markings on them are out of this world and the way they move and act just makes me want to explode, they are just like kitties at home, just bigger, and so beautiful.
The little one was feeling playful and affectionate this morning, and he kept walking in front of his mum and brushing up against her. He was stopping her to try and get her to play, but she wasn’t having any of it.
He was bounding around, just like a little kitten. Playing with things on the ground, running up trees, and generally making a nuisance of himself. They were chatting with one another and you could hear the little one calling and purring to his mummy.
He started jumping around in the trees and trying to jump on his mum. This made my heart MELT.
His mum stopped and he carried on walking, he had spotted a bird up ahead. He made a good job of stalking this bird, but to no avail, as it flew off as he was about to pounce. Mum looked on in amusement.
It was time to make ourselves scarce and leave these two to it, so we headed off in the direction of some elephants. We drove into the riverbed and waited. One elephant appeared and made its way up the bank.
The another one appeared, and another one and another one. They were all sliding down the bank on the left-hand side, and walking back up the bank on the right-hand side to feed.
There were lots of mummies with their babies. They looked so funny when they were trying to slide down the bank after their mums; we even saw one sliding on its bum.
One even trumpeted at us and tried to charge at the vehicle. He was a boisterous little one and he ran off to wreak havoc and bother the other little elephants.
There was one female digging for water in the river bed, the dug down far enough and was drinking water from the hole she had made. Her baby then came to try and get some water, its trunk was too short and the little one ended up having to get in the hole to get something to drink. Sooooooo cute!!
In total, there were about 30 elephants in this group. We didn’t count them exactly, but there in front of us, we counted 20 and a few had already wandered past and were straggling behind.
On the way back we saw some more zebras who looked like they were cuddling. They were actually grooming each other’s backs and getting the spots they couldn’t reach by themselves. Apparently, they sleep this way sometimes, and it’s kind of like a combination of a pillow and “I’ll watch your back, you watch mine” situation.
We saw a few vervet monkeys in a tree and a huge male kudu, just as we pulled into the camp.
Oh, I forgot to tell you about dinner last night! It was soooooooo yummy. We went to this Italian restaurant called Mauro’s Restaurant in St Francis Bay. It is right in the harbour and serves some really tasty stuff and has a few speciality dishes.
The waitress there was great, and she took loads of time explaining the menu, their specialities and the specials they had on offer that day. I went for two of their speciality dishes, one which was a prawn soup (it was like a bisque with a mild curry flavour) and a scampi linguine, which came with tomatoes and a pesto sauce.
Both were beyond delicious, and I couldn’t fault either of them. They were both so flavourful and you could tell that some real time and effort had gone into making the dishes special and well balanced. If I ever come back to St Francis Bay, I will definitely be going there again. It doesn’t look hugely appealing from the outside, but I would advise you to look past this and go on in anyway. The owner of the restaurant (Mauro, funnily enough), came over and introduced himself to us at the end of the evening, and we had a good chat. He was half Austrian and half Italian, and had lived in South Africa since he was young, going back to Italy to train as a chef.
The next morning, I said goodbye to my room, which was about as close to the beach as you could get without being in a beach hut, and headed up to breakfast. I went for scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and tomatoes. I don’t think I have eaten this many eggs in my life, and I am probably on the verge of turning into a chicken any moment now (I think I can feel a beak forming).
We headed off towards Port Elizabeth after breakfast and noticed a sign for Jeffrey’s Bay on the way. We followed the signs for Jeffrey’s Bay because we had heard it was a good surfing spot, and we quite fancied watching a few surfers catching the waves. We got there, and it definitely has the surfer vibe. There are loads of guys around with sun bleached hair, in board shorts and bare feet (just what you want from a surfer, I think). We made our way to the beach, and there were about 30 kids all splashing about in the water. It looked like they were a class from a school as there were some teacher looking types on the beach with them (what a great school trip).
The beach at Jeffrey’s Bay is beautiful. It’s perfectly sandy and stretches on as far as the eye can see. We spotted some surfers up the way, so we ditched the shoes and the socks and made our way over to them.
There was a mix of guys and girls out there catching the waves. We stood there watching them for a while, riding the waves and falling in and doing tricks on their boards. There was one guy who was way better than the others, and he was doing some really cool tricks and running from one end of the board with another. I wish I was that athletic, and in my dreams this is how adept I will be at surfing when I have a go. In reality, however, I doubt I will even be able to stand up on the board for even a millisecond and will probably crash headfirst into the waves, if I can get anywhere near them.
Once we were done watching and I had had a paddle in the sea, which wasn’t anywhere near as cold as I had expected, we had a quick drink at a café and headed on our way to Port Elizabeth.
As we drove into Port Elizabeth, there didn’t seem to be a load of stuff here, and it was looking pretty industrial, which I guess is to be expected at a port! But it looked really busy, again, as I imagine a port should be. We found out hotel, which turned out to be pretty easy to locate, and we were shown to our rooms. I lucked out with a twin room, which was way bigger and much nicer than the double Gail and Les are in (heh, heh). It’s nice and noisy here and it sounds like a city. There is lots of beeping or car horns and shouting, which is making a nice change from the silence everywhere else.
It was dark by the time we got out for dinner and in the end, we settled for a Greek place called La Kouzina in Port Elizabeth, which turned out to be really nice. We shared starters of dolmades (vines leaves stuffed with rice), falafel and tzatziki and pita bread. The vine leaves were warmed through and they are a billion times better like that than they are cold. I ordered a mango daquiri, which was also really good. Often, I find daquiris can be a bit hit and miss, as a lot of the time they don’t get the ice smooth enough and it is way too lumpy, but this one was on point.
I had a main was good too; I had a wrap thing with chicken and hummus in it, which was tasty. I had another mango daquiri and I ended up finishing Gail’s second caipirinha cocktail (in which many lemons were harmed in the making of), and I was beyond full by the time I had sunk that. But I did it, not wanting to let a good citrusy cocktail go to waste. Because waste not, want not, right? I’m full of good deeds.
Today was a real day of firsts. We had breakfast outside on the veranda at the lodge we were staying at and the monkeys were running around and trying to steal people’s food. There was this one monkey which jumped right on the table in front of this guy and he screamed like a complete girl and looked genuinely terrified, which I thought was tres amusant. The staff had a slingshot which they used to scare off the monkeys. Just one look at it and they were off like a shot, back into the trees.
We travelled back towards Tsitsikamma National Park and pulled in at the Elephant Sanctuary, The Crags on our way. We had heard some mixed reviews from people about this place. Some people had said it was amazing and they had had a wonderful experience there, and others had said they found it a bit depressing. Most of the people who hadn’t enjoyed it had already been on a safari and seen the animals in the wild. We have become savvy to this mistake, and we always leave things like safaris to the end of the holiday, because we know you can’t beat experiencing animals in their natural habitat. Anyway, it was an incredible experience.
There are two different packages you can do, one where you take a walk with the elephants and you get to learn all about them and feed them, and another, where you do all of those things and then get to ride an elephant at the end. We chose the option with the elephant ride, because how many people get to say they have ridden an elephant?!
We started off by taking a tour of the grounds and the guide showed us the area in which the elephants sleep (which is always open so they can come and go as they please), then we had a look at the space where the elephants get to roam around in the day. He said it wasn’t as big as they would like and there weren’t very many trees, so they took the elephants out into the bush on a regular basis so they could do all the things elephants like to do. All the elephants here had been rescued for one reason or another. Some of them didn’t have any tusks and some of them had had a portion of their trunks cut off (they assumed as a result of being stuck in snares).
We got to hold hands with the elephants and go on a walk with them. When I say hold hands, I mean my hand and the elephants trunk. The elephant I was walking with was the Matriarch, and she had no tusks, but her trunk was fully functioning. They walked a lot faster than I had expected and she ended up pushing me along because I was going too slowly so I had to speed up.
We walked through a bit of the bush and stopped in an area where the keepers explained about the elephants. We got to touch the elephants whilst the keepers explained about each individual elephant and told us loads of interesting information about them. One of the cool things I learned was that elephants cry when they are upset, angry and happy, just like humans do!
The elephant I was with kept sniffing my trainers, and I was convinced that my feet must smell or something. But the guy told me that they remember by smell and not by sight, so they spend a lot of time sniffing around new people, and that if I came back in 10 years-time, she would remember me.
We got to give them some food, and then the elephant I was with sneezed all over me. Yuck!!! I’m so glad I was wearing my sunglasses, because I got elephant snot all over them and I think I would have been blinded if I’d been hit in the eye [hilarious]. It was pretty icky, but then, how many people can say they have been sneezed on by an elephant?
We walked back to the area where they spend the day and we got to feed them all some pumpkin. I know elephants eat a lot, but I hadn’t really seen what that meant in action. They ate a whole massive bucket full of pumpkin when we got back and they were still after more! By the end of that I was completely covered in pumpkin and mud and elephant snot, but it was so worth it.
After that we got to have a ride on the elephants. This was a great experience and the guide who was on there with me explained even more about the elephants and how they had come to be here. Again, I was surprised at how fast they moved and you could really feel all their muscles working underneath the blanket we were sitting on. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it was going to be, and to be honest I have had worse journeys in cars!
All so soon, the experience was over and we were heading on our way. But not before purchasing something from the shop so we could further help the elephants. I now have a cute yellow enamel bowl with a pair of elephants on it, which I will be using to consume all of my food as soon as I get home.
After the elephant experience, it was on to the second experience of the day. Bungee jumping – eek! It was with Face Adrenaline at Bloukrans Bungy, which is a 216-metre-high bungee jump off of Bloukrans Pass bridge. It’s the world’s highest commercial bungee jump, and the highest jump from a bridge. It’s also the highest bridge in Africa. I have never done a bungee jump before, so I thought I might as well start out with the highest one.
It was me and 5 or 6 other guys, all of whom were German. We walked across a walkway underneath the bridge, and you could see beneath you the whole way down. Loads of people don’t even make it past that bit, so I was doing well so far. When you are up there, there are so many guys working the ropes and stuff, there are easily 10 of them up there. They play music when you are up there to keep you pepped up and to try and stave off any fear.
They put you in order and they strap your ankles up and get you ready for the jump. They check, check and re-check that you are strapped up properly and then it’s time to go. They are taking photos of you and filming you the whole time, so there is evidence of every part of your journey. They made a big show of checking my safety (I don’t know if this was because I was the only girl, but they definitely took longer over me than they did any of the others).
Because your ankles are strapped together, you have to hop to the edge of the jump platform supported by a couple of guys. Then you put your arms out to your sides like you are Christ the Redeemer and they count you down. 5,4,3,2,1 and jump. You have to bend your knees and push as hard and you can and jump out as far as possible. It’s the strangest feeling as you leap through the air, because at that moment you are completely weightless and your life is quite literally out of your hands. You free fall for 5 or 6 seconds, and you start to wonder if there is ever going to be tension on the cord as you plummet towards the bottom of the valley.
All of a sudden you feel the tension and you are on the recoil. You bounce up and down about 4 times, looking rather like a ragdoll, and then you hang there waiting for the guy to come and get you. You hang upside down for quite a while, spinning around, having no idea if anyone is coming to get you. Out of nowhere, a man’s butt appeared in my face and I was being pulled up into a seated position and being winched up.
When you get up there they unhook you and unstrap you and pull you up. My legs had gone all wobbly from the adrenaline and I could hardly walk when I got off. I’d gone completely weak at the knees! I would definitely do it again, it’s exhilarating and that moment of pure freedom and helplessness is worth its weight in gold; there is nothing else like it. I have some proper photos of my experience, but I can’t get to them at the moment – but rest assured I will be showing you them as soon as I can.
Today we headed outside Cape Town to the wine region. At 10.30 am Roderik (our guide) came and picked us up from our apartment. We didn’t really want to spend the whole day drinking wine, because we aren’t upper fussed over it, so we headed to the cheetah sanctuary that the guy at the reception at the apartment had suggested we go to.
The outfit: black dungarees, jazzy shirt, frilly socks and white Nikes. Oh, and the rucksack.
I’m always a bit nervous about going to places like zoos or animal “sanctuaries”, because I worry a lot about the welfare of the animals and I can’t stand seeing the animals suffering, it breaks me. We went to Seaworld in San Diego when I was a kid (this well before the whole Blackfish thing) and even at 10 it broke my heart to see those beautiful creatures contained within concrete walls. I also remember seeing an elephant at a zoo not so long ago, swaying from left to right (just like a person rocking backwards and forwards in the foetal position), and it genuinely reduced me to tears. Seeing such intelligent and wonderful animals in such a state of clear depression – I can’t deal with it. So, I was a bit nervous about going to see the cheetah at the sanctuary.
We arrived at the sanctuary and we paid to go in and have a “cub experience”. This was where you got to go in the enclosure with the cubs (who were around 9 months old) and stroke them and sit with them for a bit. Here we met Kito and his brother. These two little guys had been born at a sanctuary a few miles away and their mother unfortunately hadn’t made it. They had been brought here and had grown up in the sanctuary. The people looking after the cheetah made is very clear that under no circumstances were we to touch their faces, tummies or tails, as this was more likely to agitate them – just like it would your domestic cat.
We had to always keep one foot planted on the ground if we were in a kneeling position, so you could move away quickly if needs be, and you were only to stroke the cheetah with a flat palm, so it didn’t tickle them. The lady who was telling us about Kito and his brother, is old us his brother was a bit agitated today and we wouldn’t be able to have any contact time with him; he kept jumping up and looking at what was going on around him and was distracted by the cars moving around outside and the comings and goings of the people. The staff let the animals get up and move around as they pleased, and we were to move out of the way if either of the animals wanted to get up, look at something or have a wander.
I was the last to stroke Kito, he’d decided he wanted to leap up and jump on a box when someone else was stroking him, so I got to stoke him whilst he was sitting up rather than laying down. After a few strokes, he started purring, and I stared talking to him (just like I do my kitties at home) and told him he was much bigger than my little cats back home. He turned around to face me and looked at me with his head cocked slightly to one side. The keeper who was standing by him said he never does that with anyone and that he must like me, which obviously made me feel like the Queen of the Cheetah, and I went out of the enclosure a very happy Bonnie.
Kito’s fur was rougher than I had imagined it was going to be, and at least I can say I have stroked a cheetah and put some money towards a sanctuary. I still hate seeing them cooped up like that, but they have been born in captivity, and it’s much better than them being someone’s pet.
After meeting Kito, we went to Spiers 1692 and went for their premium wine tasting option. This was made up of 6 wines; 2 white and 4 red. As someone who is certainly no wine conesoir, all of these wines were very pallettable, rather than tasting like vinegar.
My favourites were the Sauvignon blanc and the Pinotage, and we were soon feeling rather sozzled.
I went to the shop after and bought a bottle of the Sauv to take home with me – so, Claire, if you are reading this, please free up your schedule for my return.
The highlight of this day however, had to be when Gail walked into the glass door on our way out. It was like a slapstick comedy, and she strode straight into it and bonked her nose on it. I thought it was absolutely hilarious and I had to walk away as she recovered to save myself from laughing in her face. At this point she couldn’t see the funny side of it and was still insisting that she hadn’t seen it, rather than it being as a result of her wine intake (whatever you say mama G).
After that we went to another winery which was actually closed for renovation, but the door was open and the lady inside gave us a free glass of wine for our troubles and we met a massive dog panned Gustav. I generally don’t like dogs, but be was super chill and I even forgave him when he dribbled on me a bit.
Our final stop was another winery called Tokara which was beautifully situated and also grew its own olives.
We tasted their house wines (2 red and 2 white) and I’m not going to beat about the bush or sugarcoat matters here; they were disgusting. They practically too, the skin off of the roof of my mouth and they burnt my throat on the way down.
So, my advice; if you want a decent wine, pay for a decent wine. If you don’t want your throat to feel like it has been stripped with acid that is. Practically like Oprah aren’t I? Full of good advice.
I’ve been packing for my holiday this evening. I am the WORST at packing; I’m genuinely awful at it. Once second I want to take everything with me, the next second I only want to take a pair of jeans and two t-shirts. I’m so haphazard when it comes to doing stuff like this and I’m seriously disorganised. I know it is a great idea to write out a nice list with all the things you need to take with you and then tick them off as you pack them. But, in reality, all I do is grab stuff out of drawers as I see it and hope for the best. I always, always, always forget something, but is it even a holiday if I haven’t forgotten something? Doubt it.
Packing for South Africa is a bit of a weird one, because its going to be about 23 degrees in the day, but goes down to about 9 degrees a night. So, I need stuff that is warm enough and flexible too. Fortunately most of my stuff goes together so I don’t have to worry too much about taking “outfits” (another win for the lazy person). Pretty much everything that I have packed, I can mix and match, so I can breathe a sigh of relief. And if a chill sets in, I’ll just have to wear 2 of everything so I have layers.
Anyway, I shoved everything in my suitcase and tried to close it. Obviously it didn’t close, no matter how hard I squished down the top and grappled with the zip. I didn’t want to fight too hard with my case, because it is new and it would be a bit insane to push it to breaking point on its first official outing. FYI I love my new suitcases. I got a voucher from work for my birthday for Debenhams, so I used the money to treat myself to a new set of luggage. My old suitcase was super heavy, and it was basically my entire luggage allowance without any clothes in it. So, I treated myself to some bronzey/rose goldy coloured Tripp suitcases. My eyes turn into love-hearts each time I look at them – they are the stuff of dreams.
But anyway, I turned it upside down (the case) and emptied it all out and made an effort to fold things and place them in, rather than throwing my clothes in and hoping for the best. My method still wasn’t really working here, and I was somehow managing to leave loads of gaps in between things, and more things were at an angle than I would have liked.
I emptied everything out again and made a very conscious effort to do it properly this time, because you can only do things three times before you give up and just accept that it can’t happen. I properly fold everything; really, super neatly (which takes aaaaaaaaaages) and place it all nicely in my case with some thought about how best to use the space. It was kind of like Tetris but with clothes, and less fun. Eventually I managed to fit everything in and my case zipped shut like a dream, and I only had to encourage it to close a teeny weeny bit.
I heaved my case of the bed (not going to lie, I was breaking a sweat by this point) and I went off to find the mini weighing things you use to see how heavy your case is. The moment of truth: I clipped the mini weighing thing to the handle of my case. I waited for it to turn on and have a small malfunction before I lifted it up and took the weight of my case. Taking the strain, I lifted my case up and watched the number creep up to a grand total of… 16 kilos?! Wow. That’s super light! I thought it was going to be near to the limit if I’m honest. I could pack a few “just in case” bricks and still be under the 23 kilo limit.
Because it is so under weight, I feel like I must have forgotten something. Like, something major. Pants? Or shoes? Who knows… But I guess we will find out! I’ve got a few bits out to take with me on the flight as well, a couple of books and… Well, that’s it really. But I’m sure I’ll manage to get the rest of the stuff I need out before I go, without cutting it too fine. I must remember to take all of the chargers I need – chargers are always a hard one to remember I find. And I do not want to be frantically raiding Maplin at the airport for a dodgy looking iPhone charger. Although, I have located my luggage tags, passport holder and travel wallet (which all match by the way). They are also all stamped with my initials, which makes me basically feel like the Queen, the Queen shops at Aspinal of London when they have a 20% discount right? Right??? I knew it! Always had the feeling Queensie was thrifty.