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  • Canucks with wanderlust: Five travel destinations in your own backyard for 2013

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    Published 12/18/2012 08:00:04

    VANCOUVER - Lose weight. Get organized. Exercise more. Quit smoking. Learn French. Volunteer.

    There's a lot of pressure in a new year.

    But not all resolutions require quite so much ... resolve, and a plan for a little, or big, getaway should make an appearance on every list.

    In fact, studies over the years have consistently shown there are health benefits to taking a vacation, including stress reduction, lower risk of heart disease and lesser likelihood of depression.

    A study published in December in the journal PLOS One, by psychologists from the University of Kansas and the University of Utah, found that exposure to nature sans cellphone and other technology increases creativity and problem-solving abilities.

    So save yourself: pack that suitcase and reap some health benefits in 2013.

    Where? Well, 16 million people from other countries came to Canada to vacation in 2011, and 16 million people can't be wrong. From sightseeing the lighthouses of Newfoundland to skiing the mountains of B.C., this big land has a lot to offer.

    For Giller prize-winning novelist and travel writer Will Ferguson, the ultimate vacation would take him from sea to shining sea, although the typical tourist stops are not on his list of travel recommendations. Ferguson would make sightseeing stops in places like Vegreville, Alta., where he would see a giant Ukrainian Easter egg, and O'Leary, P.E.I., where he would visit the Canadian Potato Museum and the four-metre Giant Potato.

    "These oversized icons are scattered across Canada like spare change, and they perfectly capture the eccentric, eclectic, regionally rich and welcoming nature of this country," says the "419" author, whose coast-to-coast road trip would take in the largest — and possibly weirdest — of Canadiana.

    1. World's Largest Hockey Stick, Duncan, B.C.

    At 62 metres long and weighing 28,000 kilograms, the world's largest hockey stick located at the Cowichan Community Centre has been recognized by Guinness World Records and has an exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

    Built in 1985 for display at Expo '86 in Vancouver, the stick was transported to Duncan the following year, using a barge and three flatbed trucks.

    Ferguson includes the Ogopogo statue in Kelowna, the Wawa Goose and the Giant Lobster of Shediac, N.B., on his list, in addition to:

    2. World's Longest Covered Bridge, Hartland, N.B.

    The 390-metre bridge over the St. John River officially opened in 1901 and was covered in 1922. In 1999 it was declared a national historic site, but it remains open to traffic, with some restrictions on vehicle height and weight.

    "We end at the Atlantic, at the Giant Whale in Dildo, Newfoundland, having completed a cross-Canada jaunt of gigantic proportions. And there you have it: the itinerary for the ultimate Canadian road trip," says Ferguson, whose writing career includes the travel memoir "Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw."

    3. Life is a Highway

    The main attraction in Ferguson's dream trip is the wide open road, and that can be had in spades anywhere in Canada.

    National Geographic highlighted five iconic Canadian road trips in its Drives of a Lifetime feature. They included Montreal wine country, Cape Breton, N.S., and a trek around Manitoba.

    The magazine recommends a drive that starts in Brandon, Man., and goes north to Riding Mountain Provincial Park, then south to Turtle Mountain Park and Pembina River Valley.

    "The main attraction of this relaxing prairie drive is the sense of infinite space, with rolling farmlands stretching to the horizon beneath the vast blue dome of sky," said the magazine's Drives of a Lifetime edition published in 2011.

    "Museums here tend to emphasize turn-of-the-century rural life, with a special reverence for the grand steam-powered tractors and other complex farm gadgetry that signalled the arrival of the industrial age. But there are some surprises, such as a Cretaceous marine reptile museum and the International Peace Park, marking Canada's border with the United States with a swath of flowers."

    4. Ride the Rails

    For Nora Dunn, who shares her travels on her blog theprofessionalhobo.com, it's not the highway but the rails that call.

    "Canada is so incredibly diverse and large, that the best way to gain any inkling of it is to take the time to travel across Canada ... overland," Dunn suggests.

    Taking the train is a great way to see parts of a country you might not see any other way, while still travelling between main cities. You can actually watch the landscape change outside your window, and Canada has so many different views to offer.

    "In taking the train, you don't have the worries and preoccupations of driving, nor the general discomfort of taking a bus. And long train rides can be a significant part of your travel journey — something you miss entirely when you fly."

    The Gaspe Peninsula and the cross-provincial trip from Halifax heading west are beautiful, and she recommends the Rocky Mountaineer, from Vancouver to Jasper, and/or Via Rail's Skeena, from Jasper to Prince Rupert.

    Or both.

    "If you do both you can close the loop between Prince Rupert and Vancouver by taking the ferry from Prince Rupert to the top of Vancouver Island, then travelling down the island and taking the ferry back to Vancouver," says Dunn.

    "As you can see, I'm a huge train travel fan."

    5. Travel the Icefields Parkway

    Dunn says this 232-kilometre stretch of highway through the heart of the Rockies is a must-see. A journey that will take you through two national parks and a world heritage site, where you can see azure mountain lakes, sparkling glaciers and sweeping valleys.

    The area is home to bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, elk, eagles, caribou, and the list goes on and on.

    "You can drive it in a day, and book accommodation on either side, or take it slowly and camp along the way. There are so many gems along this route, and the views are simply spectacular," she says.

    ———

    If You Go...

    http://bc-cowichanvalley.civicplus.com/index.aspx?nid=677

    http://www.town.hartland.nb.ca/html/bridge.htm

    http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/road-trips/

    http://www.viarail.ca/en/trains/rockies-and-pacific/jasper-prince-rupert

    http://www.icefieldsparkway.ca/index.html

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