Let’s be perfectly frank for a moment: Australians already love Canada a lot. Captivated by the free-and-easy visa situation and exceptional skiing opportunities, we as a people have thoroughly overrun places like Vancouver, Whistler and Banff to the point that it’s basically impossible to go to any of them without running headlong into roughly six million Aussies. There’s a good reason Canadians call it ‘Whistralia’.
But, folks, Canada is an exceptionally large and excellent country and packed with a bunch of other places that are very much worth your time. Here are a few spots if you’re ready to hang up your skis and check out what else is on offer.
No bones about it: if you’re in the market to see some polar bears, there’s no better place in the world than Churchill, in the province of Manitoba. A number of companies operate accommodation and tours in the tiny town, with the sole purpose of getting you as close as possible to the animals.
Prime polar bear time is October and November – at which point it is, well, insanely cold. If you’re keen for an animal experience, but not the subzero temperatures, then Churchill is still fun in the warmer months. Instead of bears, you can kayak with beluga whales on the lake, which is an equally unforgettable experience.
Everybody knows Banff. That’s with good reason – Banff is great. But if you’re looking for the mountain town vibe with less of a touristy vibe, you can’t go past Canmore. It’s less of a party town than Banff, but it’s a little chiller as a result, and it has culture and culinary options out the wazoo. It’s like a little Byron Bay tucked up in the Rockies.
And, yes, you still get those unbelievable mountain vistas. Can’t beat that!
A recommendation: If you want to orient yourself with regards to the great food on offer, check out the Canmore Tasting Trail. One entry fee and you’ll be on your way through the best food and booze stops the town has to offer.
Also – if you’re the adventurous type, Canmore Cave Tours hosts a number of hiking and caving programs in the region. One of them literally involves watching The Descent inside an actual cave on Halloween. You know, if that’s your jam.
Golden, British Columbia
If you’re craving the ski/adventure life somewhere a teeny bit less touristy than Whistler or Banff, it’s hard to beat Golden, which sits on the BC side of the Rockies. It’s basically perfectly located: you’re within a stones throw of six amazing national parks, and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is literally right there. If you’re inclined to the more extreme end of the extreme sports continuum, you can find some of the best heli-skiing in the whole country near Golden.
The town is also a burgeoning food hotspot, with everything from luxe dining experiences to top shelf bars on offer. Not bad!
If you’re an engineering fan: Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge is the longest freestanding timber bridge in Canada. No, it’s genuinely very cool, I swear! How do they do it??
Hôtel de Glace, Quebec
This entry is far more specific than the others on the list, but you’re here for unique experiences, right? If you ever happen to find yourself in Quebec during the winter months and looking for a unique experience, you can’t go past the Hôtel de Glace, located just north of Quebec City. It’s the only ice hotel in North America, and it literally only exists from the beginning of January until the end of March.
Yes, that means that the hotel is constructed almost entirely out of ice at the end of the year, and then torn down several months later. It’s literally a different hotel each year. Check out this slick video they put together showing off the construction process last year:
Is it cold in there? Yes. Yes it is. It hangs below zero even indoors – and the beds themselves are made of ice – but you’re kitted out with a nice Arctic sleeping bag, so you’ll be fine.
Prince Edward Island
I’m fully aware I’m recommending an entire Canadian province here, but if you’re someone who simply must go somewhere that isn’t normally at the top of tourist must-see lists, Prince Edward Island can be a very chill time. The island is largely rural, with lots of rolling pastoral lands and beaches – not what you normally picture when you think of Canada. In recent years it’s attracted a lot of international tourism thanks to its natural beauty and relaxing vibe.
If you’re a cycling fan: you’re in luck: you can ride (or hike) from tip to tail of the island if you so desire. That’s 435 kilometres of rolled stone dust trail which is almost entirely flat. And the landscape is beautiful. Everybody wins.
Calgary has a rep as the underdog of Canada‘s big cities; a bit of a cowboy town and heavily business-focused city. That’s definitely changing, though – apart from the Western extravaganza that is the yearly Calgary Stampede, the city is developing a cool foodie culture and building a real youthful energy.
That isn’t to say that the cowboy shit isn’t real fun, though. Because it extremely is. You’d be hard-pressed to find a wilder city festival than Stampede anywhere in the world, and that’s saying something. There’s good reason why tourists like to orient their trips to the Eastern side of the Rockies around it.
Besides – you’re probably going through there (or flying in to Calgary International) on your way to Banff. Why not stick around a bit?Image: Getty Images