Travel isn't about places – it's about moments. It's about experiences of almost indescribable pleasure when everything comes together, when you find yourself in the perfect place, at the perfect time, with the perfect company. There's a feeling it inspires in you, a thrill that will stick with you for a lifetime.
These moments can take you by surprise, can creep up in the most unlikely places. They might strike as you gaze at a spectacular vista, a place you've long dreamed of witnessing; they could hit over a beautiful meal, or on a casual stroll, or during an interaction with a people so foreign and yet so familiar.
This is what travel is all about. It's why we leave home. It's why we live. And these are some of the guaranteed "moments" on a journey through Canada and Alaska.
Rocky Mountaineer train journey
The Rocky Mountaineer.
The location: The Rocky Mountaineer is one of the world's great train journeys, a spectacular two-day meander from Banff, up into the high Rockies, via the town of Kamloops, to Vancouver in British Columbia. There are highlights here both inside the carriage and out, from the luxury of the GoldLeaf Service onboard, with a la carte meals and free-flowing beverages, to the sight of Canada's alpine wilderness rolling past the window.
The moment: "Wow." There is absolutely no doubt you will mouth that word as you sit in the Rocky Mountaineer's glass-domed carriages or stand on the open-air observation deck and take in the splendour of the surrounding mountain scenery, from the turquoise lakes to the cedar-studded forests to the snow-capped peaks that slide by as the train makes its way across the continental divide. The word "wow" barely covers it.
The location: You'll have to go a long way to find a sight as spectacular as the Athabasca Glacier, the 10,000-year-old, six-kilometre-long river of ice that sits high in the Columbia Icefields, an accessible reserve on the road between the Albertan towns of Banff and Jasper. The Athabasca is one of the world's largest non-polar icefields, a solid mass that moves inexorably down the mountain at a rate of five metres a year. To stand on this huge sheet of ancient ice is an amazing and humbling experience.
The moment: Though there are several ways to view the glacier, the most exciting is aboard an Ice Explorer, a massive vehicle that provides access to some of the Athabasca's most fascinating and tricky-to-reach niches. Stepping down from the vehicle and onto this glacier, far from the gaze of civilisation, is one of those thrilling moments that never leaves you.
Lake Louise, Canada.
The location: The Canadian Rockies has no shortage of spectacular locations; however, Lake Louise is up there with its finest. This stunning hamlet sparkles with turquoise glory in the summer and snuggles under a blanket of pristine snow in the colder months. At any time of year, however, it's a beautiful spot, and there's no better place from which to view it than the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (where APT guests are guaranteed a Lakeview room). And don't forget to take a guided walk of the area accompanied by an expert Mountain Heritage Guide.
The moment: There's an instant of true perfection to be had at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, where the area's natural and cultural attractions come together. To dine at the hotel's Fairview Dining Room is to enjoy elegant cuisine while taking in the sight of sparkling Lake Louise from the room's large, arched windows.
The location: Whistler, the mountain resort in British Columbia, is well known for its natural attractions, for its snow-covered peaks and dense forests, its vast wilderness areas riven with hiking trails. One of the area's more surprising attractions, however, is its indigenous heritage, something that's promoted and celebrated at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre. There's a whole side to Whistler that remains undiscovered by so many visitors, and which throws new light on the natural beauty that surrounds.
The moment: An ideal way to gain a personal perspective on Whistler's Squamish Lil'wat heritage is to enjoy breakfast at the cultural centre, before being led on a guided tour of the museum. It's during this tour that visitors can discover their "animal spirit" with the help of their guide.
The location: Vancouver Island tends to take people by surprise. It sounds like a small place; probably not somewhere travellers dream of visiting when there are so many other big-ticket destinations in Canada. And yet this is one spectacular part of British Columbia, a huge landmass off the coast of Vancouver that boasts attractions both cultural and natural, from the murals of Chemainus to the whale-watching opportunities off Victoria, from the dense forests and rugged coastlines of the whole island to the classic beauty of Victoria's Butchart Gardens.
The moment: The Butchart Gardens, a century-old botanical wonder in the city of Victoria, is understandably popular: more than a million tourists visit each year. APT guests, however, are given early access to this beautiful spot, enjoying breakfast in the original Butchart home and then being given time to wander the floral displays before the crowds arrive.
The location: The experience of visiting Alaska is one that contrasts perfectly with a Canadian adventure: this is an area best taken in by cruise, enjoying the languid pace of life at sea after discovering Canada by land. Cruise with Holland America Line or Princess on your ATP journey and you'll take in the famed Inside Passage, calling past the fjords and islands of British Columbia before making land in the US's northernmost state, paying visits to outposts like Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan to enjoy everything this stunning place has to offer.
The moment: It's the air – that crisp, clean Alaskan air. Breathe in great lungfuls of it as you stand on the deck of your ship and marvel at the scenery, as you cruise into Glacier Bay, where the true majesty of Alaska reveals itself. That's a moment to remember, a moment when everything comes together and life truly is great. It will stay with you forever.
Unforgettable person: Mountie Pat Kamenka
With red serge jackets, riding pants, felt hats and boots, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police –known as the Mounties – are globally recognised.
Playing an integral role in Canada's early days, Mounties helped settle much of the remote Northwestern Territories. These days, the Mounties are Canada's federal police force, but if you are hankering for an old-school Mountie encounter, head to Banff National Park, where retired officers such as Pat Kamenka don the red serge to share stories about the Mounties' traditions and experiences.
This article has been produced in association with APT.
Think you know Canada? Think again – explore new adventures and rediscover old ones with APT. Everything is taken care of in an unforgettable luxury journey with APT. For more information visit www.aptouring.com.au/traveller, call 1300 290 669 or contact your local travel agent.