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Getting to know Bob

Bob yawning at sunset

You know you are heading to the remote north when snow comes in through the airplane vents. We were skimming along the coast north of Churchill in a de Havilland DHC-3 Otter heading towards Seal River and by the time we bounced along the dirt runway I had a fine white coating.

This remote upgraded old hunting lodge was to be home for the next couple of nights. Our guides Tara & Andy met us at the strip and said once you get out please keep close the aircraft, you are in prime polar bear territory now.

It was a short walk to the lodge where we settled in before lunch. Andy said to me with a knowing smile, I’m pretty sure you will see a bear before you leave. The dining area was down a short corridor which opened up into a large windowed area overlooking the mouth of the Seal River; “if you look out there you will see your first bear”. Sure enough there was a pale rock amongst the other slightly greyer looking ones. ‘’That’s your bear’’ said Andy just 70 metres away from us.

Sue and Bob

After lunch we went out into the compound, a small area just outside the back door which is fenced so you can safely exit the lodge. Andy was giving us our briefing about travelling in polar bear country and showing us all his tricks to “discourage” an over interested bear. “Knocking rocks together is a really good option, keep an eye on the bear as he will probably lift his head as I do this” said Andy, cracking two rocks together. Not a flinch from the bear, as Andy carried on showing us the fire crackers, starting pistol and for worst case scenario a shot gun.

Mr bear did everything he could to upstage Andy, having been an immobile blob he decided to roll onto his back, waving his legs in the air. Not content with this he then picked up a caribou antler tossing it between his paws while lying on his back. We decided to name this bear backyard Bob as he was so close to the lodge. Occasionally, he opened his eyes but was completely unfazed by us, we skirted back round him and continued on our walk. We saw lots of birdlife, a beautiful arctic hare who let us get remarkably close and a short tailed weasel which had caught a lemming.

The next day we were told that our polar friend Bob had wondered off late yesterday evening towards the south, however from the observation tower a bear could be seen a way off in the distance. The wind had picked up and it felt distinctly cooler than the previous day but the ice we had walked over was now a pool. As we head out towards where Bob was spotted, we caught sight of a bear. He took some interest in us, but as we were downwind he couldn’t smell us, so was pretty unconcerned. We stopped around 50m from him; Andy & Tara told us to stick together in group and be quiet. Andy spoke very gently and confirmed it was indeed Bob. After 20 minutes curiosity got the better of him, he stretched and picked himself up walking across the ice towards us, stopping, he then turned sideways and gave us that perfect polar bear pose that everyone will recognise. We soon learnt this was the pre defecation pose, a clear sign of what he thought of our presence. He slowly continued to walk towards us along the edge of the shore, stopping to sniff the air. We were stood slightly up the bank and we assumed he wanted to walk past us and back towards the lodge, which he did but when he was level with us he stopped less than 10m away and watched us. Andy & Tara stepped forward of the group with rocks in hand and suggested to the bear that he ought to keep moving, with a crack of the rocks he seemed to get the message and moved off at an amble, not even bothering to look back at us, but retracing our steppes to the lodge. From our stunned silence we broke into an excited babble, most of regretting having a telephoto lens.

We continued our walk and soon came across another bear; this was a naughty bear, one with a green spot on his back. He had been caught in Churchill too close to the community so he had been tranquilised and spent a little time in the jail before being flown north and released. He had obviously had a bad interaction with humans so was not so keen to see us and disappeared into the willow and we left him alone.

On returning to the lodge we found Bob just 20m from the compound. Looking relaxed he put on a show of yawning and stretching, rolling on his back, relaxing in the noon sun.

Bob had certainly become a favourite for the group and none of us tired from having the opportunity to see him revel in the attention.

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Steppes Big 5 activities to do on holiday in the Yukon

The Yukon is one of the most quirky whilst scenically spectacular destinations in Canada. A northern territory of Canada (not to be confused with the Northwest Territories) it has big competition with Alaska bordering to the west and British Columbia to the south. This is a vast open wilderness boasting towering mountains, vast ice-fields, thick coniferous forests and vast meandering rivers. A magnificent deserted landscape to explore, it is twice the size of the UK, but with just a minute fraction of the population. Making it the perfect remote getaway.

Top 5 highlights of the Yukon:

 Dog Sledding

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Two of the most prestigious and gruelling dog sledding races in the world are set in Yukon and neighbouring Alaska. Dog sledding is a prestigious sport here and has a deep history with some of the best Alaskan huskies and race dogs you can find. This is the place to try your hand at dog sledding. Travel with your own team and explore the hundreds of miles of mapped trails with incredible scenery at every turn.

Follow the Klondike trail

Yukon is bursting with history, the majority of which surrounds the mass gold rush of the late 1800’s. The Klondike Gold Rush saw mass migration into the Yukon soon after the discovery of gold with treacherous journeys for prospectors. Today, this history is still apparent in the quirky communities. Dawson City was at the heart of this and you can still gold pan today – definitely a must do for any tour of the Yukon.

Cross the Arctic Circle

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The infamous Dempster Highway is widely known as one of the most scenic drives in the world. Stretching 460 miles, this vast gravel road leads through the northern Yukon all the way to the Arctic Circle passing through small offbeat towns along the way. The scenery is unmissable, displaying some of the most magnificent wilderness in the world. Passing through three mountain ranges there is not only impressive peaks but a wide variety of wildlife to see along the way.

Ice bear viewing in the Yukon

HT.CA019.Ice Bear, Bear Cave Mountain, Yukon, Canada

Nowhere else in the world can you view the phenomenon of the ‘ice bears’. Set within a stone’s throw of the Arctic Circle, Bear Cave Mountain is an extremely remote lodge visited by just a handful of people per year. With just a 6 week window, this is the place for the true wildlife lover and for photographers seeking something new and extraordinary. Due to a seasonal phenomenon, when snow is thick on the ground and winter sets in hard, watch as grizzlies fishing for salmon, dive into icy waters emerging with great icicles hanging off their thick furs.

The Northern Lights of the Yukon

Whilst auroras can be seen closer to home, the Yukon cannot be forgotten for its impressive winter light displays. Experience the total silence and solitude of the winter here whilst watching for the bright multi-coloured light displays seen each year. Tied in with dog sledding adventures or ski escapes, the Yukon should not be missed for a winter escape.

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British Columbia Holiday: 5 reasons to travel on the Pacific Yellowfin Spirit Bear Tour

The Pacific Yellowfin is based on the West Coast of British Columbia; a rugged coastline and the perfect getaway for wildlife and nature enthusiasts. Here are my reasons for why travelling on the Pacific Yellowfin is a must on your British Columbia holiday.

1) The search for the Spirit Bear

As one of the richest ecosystems in the world containing 25% of the remaining intact temperate rainforests, the Great Bear Rainforest is home to prolific wildlife making it the perfect destination for wildlife enthusiasts. The rare white Spirit bear is unique to this region and can be found in specific areas accessible only by boat. In the presence of a Gitga’at Spirit Bear keeper, view these extraordinary species in their natural habitat whilst feeding on the rich salmon filled waters.

2) Wildlife

The rich ecosystem of the Great Bear Rainforest supports a vast array of wildlife both on land and in the surrounding waters. Large mammals include the grizzly, black and spirit bears along with the more allusive grey wolves and wolverine. In the waters a myriad of species including harbour seals, sea otters, Pacific white-sided dolphins and Stella Sea Lions are common to this area along with the whale species of Humpback, Fin and Orcas making for a highly varied wildlife experience.

3) The Pacific Yellowfin

Those fortunate to have travelled on a small vessel will appreciate how the size of a boat will impact the viewing opportunities of both the scenery and wildlife. The shallow hull allows the exploration of the most remote and slight inlets and to get up close to the wildlife. The Pacific Yellowfin is the finest vessel of all those on west coast Canada; a refurbished WWII yacht, it has been exquisitely finished with beautiful hardwood furnishings to offer a spacious viewing platform with a capacity of just 12 passengers. The engine room is in itself a highlight with immaculately restored original engines that have powered the Yellowfin for over 60 years.

4) The Crew

Whilst west coast BC sells itself, the addition of an expert team makes exploring not only more informative but also far more exciting. Captain Colin Griffinson’s passion is infectious, having sailed these waters for a decade along with his team of 4. Their knowledge of the fishing hot spots, wildlife, beautiful hikes and secret waterfalls combine to make for a captivating sailing adventure.

5) September in British Columbia

Whilst the summer season is fantastic for wildlife viewing, September is the peak bear viewing season. By this time the salmon run is already underway making the run upstream to spawn in the river system. This draws the bears to the rivers congregating in high numbers to feast on this rich food source making for fantastic viewing and photographic opportunities.

To learn more about your British Columbia holiday, call us on 01285 880980 or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

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Film Review | Into The Wild

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon for each day to have a new and different sun”

– Christopher McCandless, 1992.

 Into the Wild follows the true story of a troubled young adult Christopher McCandless seeking to emancipate himself from modern society. In 1992, he hitchhikes through America to the wild lands of Alaska. His aim is to live simply off the land seeking only a blank space on the map.

Through the extracts of his diary, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt pieced together the details of this remarkable journey that was later adapted into film by Sean Penn.

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The journey follows Christopher as he disassociates himself from his life and his family and heads off on his adventure to Alaska. Embracing each new encounter and adventure that crosses his path, it has many touching moments with the people he meets along the way.

In the final stages, we follow the perils and adversity he faces when he reaches the Alaskan wilderness when the reality and his ideals are challenged.

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It is a heart-wrenching and an inspirational story of this young man motivated by adventure with a never failing determination to continue on at all costs to reach his goal of solitude and peace. Beyond any shortfalls of the character, Into the Wild reminds of the beauty travel offers and how each experience is precious.

Watching the beautiful scenery in the film set in Denali National Park, reminded me of the remote untouched wilderness in Alaska. A place to get away from normal life and get lost in your thoughts.

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“Don’t hesitate or allow yourself to make excuses. Just get out and do it. Just get out and do it. You will be very, very glad that you did. The life and simple beauty of it is too good to pass up.”

– Christopher McCandless, 1992.

 To experience your own Alaska adventure, get in touch with me now on 01285 880980 or email at inspire@steppestravel.com.

 

Mountains & Bears of Alaska - Denali and Katmai

Mountains & Bears of Alaska – Denali and Katmai

12 days from £4,895pp

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Alaska Inside Passage - Eastern Coves

Alaska Inside Passage – Eastern Coves

10 days from £2,945pp

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Soaring Over Alaska

The pilot tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a huge glacier stretching as far as the eye could see, one of many huge natural wonders in this wilderness area of Alaska. Flying over the Alaska Range of Denali, I felt like a tiny insect being engulfed by the land. A vast landscape of dramatic scenery, a labyrinth of mountains, rivers and forests. This is the home of the largest mountain in North America ‘Mount Denali’ aka ‘Mount McKinley’.

Alaska has been referred to as ‘a land of superlatives – biggest, highest, wildest, most beautiful’; this was definitely evident on my trip. Flying in Alaska is the only way to truly explore, experienced bush pilots are as common as black cabs in London. Gliding at what felt like meters above the mountain tops affording an eagle eye view of the land below was incredible. If the scenery was not breath taking enough, I had the added bonus of travelling in the Autumn. The colours radiated, the vibrant reds of the fireweed standing out against the backdrop of the bright yellows and auburns. This is a special time to visit Denali, the seasonal cross over lasts just weeks at best, each day bringing a visible change until the winter snow casts its blanket.

These days terms such as ‘off-the-beaten-path’ and ‘untouched’ are thrown in as second nature and can be misplaced when describing a destination. In Alaska, this opportunity still awaits. True there are the regions where tourism is visible, but a vast proportion of the state is still so remote locals rely on hunting as a way of life and survival is a necessity through the winter season.

Travelling through Alaska was humbling, with residents playing a role in a greater cycle dictated by the weather, land and the mass of wildlife that governs much of the terrain. Nature takes its course here, and it was wonderful to be a small part of it if only for a while.

Alaska - Mountains and Bears

Mountains & Bears of Alaska – Denali and Katmai

12 days from £4,895pp

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ALASKA - Ultimate Alaska Wildlife

wildlife group tour

ALASKA – Ultimate Alaska Wildlife

15 days from £6,595pp

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Bush-whacking in Alaska

“Hey bear, hey bear” went the thankfully unanswered call of our guide as we picked our way through the thick forest.

I was “bush-whacking” on an uninhabited island in south-east Alaska, one of a choice of active excursions available during my time on the Safari Endeavour boat. Bush-whacking involves being dropped off by skiff onto a remote beach in a small group and making your way across the island to the beach the other side – sounds easy. What I haven’t mentioned is that there are no paths, just thick forest, fallen trees, boggy bits and bears for company.

Our intrepid party of 10 set off in high spirits, giddy with excitement and nerves, of what may lurk in the bush. The temperate rainforest was as nature intended, plants growing where they found room, competing for the light and space to make a home; on fallen logs, on trees or the ground. As we wove our way deeper and deeper into the forest climbing over, under, around and then back again at times to find the best ‘path’, a feeling of camaraderie formed between us. We continued fighting our way through the undergrowth, looking out for our fellow pioneers and also for the larger furry bush-whackers too.

An hour of arboreal obstacles later, we stepped out into a large open mossy area. It was magical, a myriad of greens all around, trees covered with lichens like wispy beards. As we bounced over the soft, spongy vegetation below, we wondered if we were the only people to have ever discovered this Tolkien-esque scene. The forest around was full of shadows and darkness, you found yourself straining your eyes in the hope of seeing an elusive bear. Overhead, a huge bald eagle glided across the sky and swooped down claws ready, like landing gear, to pounce on an unsuspecting fish in a nearby pond.

We dove back into the cover of the forest searching for the sea, the wall of trees ended abruptly, and like parting a curtain we stepped onto the beach and cheered with the thrill of having survived the Alaskan wilderness. As we headed back to the boat to clean up for dinner, a sense of satisfaction rolled over me, we had definitely earned our cocktails on deck tonight.

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More than a walk in the park

In celebration of Independence Day in the United States I share some thoughts on my favourite regions and highlights of this wonderful country. With a passion for the outdoors, I am drawn time and again towards the national parks – one of the greatest creations- preserving the precious landscapes that make this land so special.

Here are a few of my favorites…

Yosemite National Park

No words can describe the grandeur and pure majesty of Yosemite. Legendary naturalist John Muir and the talented photographer Ansel Adams have tried to encapsulate the scale. From the moment you enter the park you will feel the energy and the spirit that make this place so unique. Some of the largest trees on the planet, the tallest waterfalls, the pristine alpine meadows and lake valleys, even some of the largest monolithic rock structures ever created, live in this park.

What to do
The iconic granite monolith Half Dome. Historically geologists thought the summit of Half Dome would never be touched by human hands or feet. Now one of the most popular activities in the park is the seventeen mile Half Dome hike and cable route. The combination of the Mist Trail for the finest waterfalls, combined with some of the best views of the park, are reasons why this hike and summit are so special.

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 Zion National Park

Combined with spectacular Aeolian sand stone deposits, arches, narrow canyons and some of the tallest free standing vertical faces in the country. For true natural beauty Zion has as much to offer any place in the world.

What to do
Canyoneering combines route finding, rappelling, problem solving, swimming, and hiking. With a variety of canyons to explore, some barely wide enough for a human to squeeze through, the Zion offers canyons that range from beginners level to experiences requiring advanced technical skills. One of the most spectacular canyons in the park is the famous Zion Narrows carved out over millions of year and considered the largest slot canyon in the world this natural wonder is a must see when exploring the park.

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Crater Lake

No place else on earth combines a deep, pure lake, so blue in colour; sheer surrounding cliffs, almost two thousand feet high; two picturesque islands; and a violent volcanic past. It is a place of immeasurable beauty. One of the deepest and clearest freshwater lakes in the world reaching nearly 1932 ft. in depth, Crater Lake is recognized worldwide as a scenic wonder.

What to do
Volcano Boat Cruises are approximately 3 hours to 6 hours. They offer a fantastic perspective of the lake as you travel counter-clockwise around the perimeter. An Interpretative Ranger from the National Park Service will be onboard the boat and offer cultural and natural history about Crater Lake. For the more adventurous type, the boat can be dropped off on Wizard Island for some additional hiking, exploration and beauty.

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Celebrate all things State-side with us and make the most of our special rates.

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Travel with your Tribe

Nothing compares to travelling with your family, creating happy memories from a shared experience.

Smiles will be as broad as our destination list. The ingredients for a perfect family adventure are simple: a family friendly place to stay and lots of activities to keep the kids amused. You may also want somewhere that the Grandparents can enjoy, and one to one time for Mum and Dad.

We are certain you will have your own must-haves, and we personalise your journey to make it special. So if you have any favourite activities or a wish list, let us know and we can make it happen.

Our Top 5 are below – but the choice is long. Call us if you have a particular place in mind or a favourite.

South Africa | Grootbos

Perfectly located on the Cape, close to the coast for a head spinning array of activities and wildlife, including whale watching. We recommend horse-riding and of course time out on the ocean wave.


USA | Dunton hot Springs

0000024571_e_1280x720Calling all cowboys. You can’t get more authentic than seeing Butch Cassidy & Sundance’s name carved on the saloon bar of Dunton Hot Springs. This former silver mining town makes a fun base to a ranch and riding holiday.


Morocco | Villa Alexandra

A private villa on the outskirts of Marrakech – quiet enough for a family stay, close enough to wander the medina and also a short drive to the Atlas Mountains.


Turkey | Charter a Gulet

Sail with up to 10 friends and family on one of our hand-picked gulets, with direct flights into Dalaman on the Lycian coast a great short hop for a half term break.


Nicaragua | Mukul Resort

0000029576_e_1280x720All facilities on hand with Nicaragua’s first super-luxurious resort but the comfort and intimacy of a private home. We can arrange exclusive hire of Pellas residence, home to Don Carlos, the resort owner. Four bedrooms and a large swimming pool look out on 20,000ft of ocean front and you will find that Mukul is completely geared up for families with day care, adventure programmes, movie nights and so much more.

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A Close Encounter With Bob

Do you know that a polar bears tongue is blue/black?

I do, because I just looked into a polar bears throat, just a foot from my head.

You know as a child at the zoo you have that desire to poke your face up against the wire and do everything your parents tell you not to and try to make the animals look at you?

Well Bob, our friendly polar bear, obviously had the same urges, having laid down a few meters from the wire of the compound vying for us to give him attention.

He had his back to us in that quintessential legs stretched behind polar bear pose, every so often raising his head to turn and look back at us and sniff the air. After an hour most people had gone back into the warmth of the lodge and I admit I had thoughts to myself that I would follow them shortly, so I crouched by the fence for those last few shots.

With just 2 of us out there Bob got up and walked right up to the fence and mouthed the wire right in front of us. The adrenaline was pumping but he didn’t seem aggressive, just curious, continuing to mouth at the wire pushing his nose right through and even managing a dainty burp.

It is an emotional moment when a wild animal makes the initiative to connect, we were definitely the exhibit in the zoo and he was the curious child, checking to see where his boundaries were. An encounter that will be etched in memory forever. It’s a shame that the weather has come in again and we may not get to leave today, however I have never been so pleased to have a flight delay, leaving us to have such an incredibly lucky close encounter with Bob.

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British Columbia

Soaring high above Vancouver I pushed my face to the glass to take a look at the land below. I could just make out the city sights in the distance of the harbour and the towering sky scrapers rising up to the sky. Before long the city was lost into the clouds screening my view of the land below. We were told by the pilot that the clouds were soon to clear of which we were all slightly sceptical… “Canadian optimism!” I heard someone call out.

Less than half an hour later, true to the pilot’s word the clouds dispersed and the land below returned to our sights with excited passengers returning their foreheads to the glass. The magnificent scenery was finally back in view with its rugged coastline rising out of the Pacific waters up towards the mountainous terrain.

Upon landing, I was swiftly shuttled through to my next aircraft to take me deep into the Great Bear Rainforest. Emerging from the trees I could see a small bay ahead where floating quietly on the waters was my small aircraft, a sea plane. Having never experienced a take-off on the water, I was filled with excitement as we headed off across the bay and with little effort we soared into the air.

I immediately loved this part of Canada. The dramatic landscape of scattered islands and deep inlets was mesmerising, so raw in nature. Not a boat, road or house could be seen anywhere in sight- this land seemed somewhat undiscovered!

British Columbia is renowned for this magnificent landscape as one of the largest nearly intact ecosystems in the world. Just a cluster of properties inhabit these remote areas, they work as one with the environment, dedicated to sustainable travel and self-sufficient practises. It was wonderful to at last spend time exploring the Great Bear Rainforest – home to the Grizzly and Spirit bears it is a wildlife wonderland full of exciting adventures.

Travel to British Columbia is varied and offers vast opportunities whether it is a family, wilderness or wildlife adventure, city and culture trip or romantic getaway. The west coast is renowned for its stunning coastline and the amazing wildlife with Grizzly Bears, Orcas, seals and dolphins all common of the area. Vancouver Island and the Great Bear Rainforest host a collection of inspirational lodges each offering a unique experience.

On the mainland, adventures are largely dominated by outdoor activities with Whistler a year round destination. Nicely combined with a coastal adventure on Vancouver Island or an self-drive from Vancouver to the Rocky Mountains, it is a great destination for both families and couples holidays. For those more adventurous, head to a remote wilderness lodge in the north of the province where glacial and hiking heli-adventures are notorious. For winter adventures dog-sledging and snow shoeing allow travellers to explore off the beaten track.