True North

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Travel Editor Susie Boswell says scenically-stunning Canada is welcoming visitors and offering some good deals post Olympics.

The Winter Olympics are over – let the fun and games begin! The billions of dollars spent by the Canadian Government and private enterprise to stage last month’s winter sports extravaganza – based on one of the world’s best ski resorts, Whistler – is now required to pay dividends. The TV spotlight’s faded to black and now’s the time Canada hopes to capitalise on the worldwide exposure the Games delivered. Let’s hope they do better than Sydney: despite staging “the best Olympics ever” Australia’s premier city is considered to have failed to benefit fully from the heightened, welcoming, profile it gained from holding the friendly summer 2000 Games. Vancouver, capital of Canada’s westernmost province British Columbia, was “Games central” and has focused much attention on B.C. and its neighbouring province, Alberta, the country’s winter sports capital.

There’s plenty to see and experience right across Canada, the world’s second biggest country, with no language barriers (even in French-speaking Montreal, with English the dual national language) and a currency that’s nearer than any other to parity with our own dollar. (At time of writing, the Australian dollar bought around 94c Canadian). The main drawback is the extensive flying time to Canada: the best part of 24 hours for most flights ex Sydney, and via LAX and San Francisco. (It’s also immensely tiresome, if reassuring, to have to endure rigorous and lengthy US customs and immigration checks mid-journey: even though you’re merely in transit you’re temporarily entering the US, hence the checks. The same applies on return, airside in Canada). And when you arrive at your forward destination your body clock is completely inverted: a good many travellers find they need a day or two more of downtime (read: lost time) to get back in sync. Watch also for accurately-quoted tour durations, ignoring the vagaries of crossing the international dateline.

And so, of course, it pays to stay away as long as you can afford. Air Canada does have non-stop flights Sydney-Vancouver that cut the flight time to 15 hours or so but, well … let’s just say it’s perhaps preferable to fly an airline you know.

Björk concert at Sydney Harbor

The stunning Niagara Falls

Naturally, travelling literally half way round the world – let’s say some 15,000km one way – is expensive. A proper holiday in Canada is way beyond the order of a week in Fiji; it’s a major life purchase for most of us with, as a yardstick, no change from a minimum $10,000 each – and upwards – for a decent tour. For this money, though, it’s also a major life’s experience. Also note that, at present, international airfares are competitive, thanks to the GFC, and our currency’s purchasing power is significantly greater than it was six months ago. One thing’s almost certain: if you choose Canada for a big event such as a wedding anniversary or retirement trip, you won’t come away disappointed. Granted, the odd customer service, meal or airport incident might grate at the time but, overall, Aussie visitors return a high satisfaction rating for their Canada tours.

Planning, to make the most of your money, is essential. Do your internet research by all means, noting any codes for special offers or discounts, but then take a broad plan to a helpful travel agent to flesh it out. Making an outlay of the size a Canadian holiday demands is not an occasion for DIY. One tour company I’ve been impressed by is Scenic Tours, operating in Australia for more than 20 years: I’ve toured Canada with their guides whom I found mature, friendly, knowledgeable and interested in giving clients a quality experience. Sure, they have to make a profit on top of the aggregated string of companies that provide the tour but they do make use of some economies of scale and bulk discounts. Then again, if you’d prefer to save on tour company overheads a travel agent can put together a good airfare, tickets for a cruise or a ride on the Rocky Mountaineer and a comprehensive free-ranging itinerary to ensure your trip runs as smoothly as possible – AND uses reliable operators with built-in insurance and refund safeguards.

Planning could indeed be the hardest part, choosing which of many temptations to explore. The epithet True North derives from the country’s national anthem, O Canada – and the song refers accurately to Canada’s stunning scenery: “where pines and maples grow, great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow”. Famous Niagara Falls is merely one must-see natural attraction … the wildlife is truly amazing and leaves zoos in the shade for life … the majesty of Canada’s topography is never-forget-it thrilling … the folks are friendly and the food nearly as good as at home.

As they cried at the Winter Olympics: Go Go Go!
Info: Scenic Tours -1300 72 36 42 (local call cost).

Story by Susie Boswell.

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