The last morning in Vancouver was occupied by packing (just within the weight limit), checking out and returning the hire car at the airport. The latter was very efficiently handled, with a scan of the barcode for identification, a quick inspection and a fuel check, all carried out by a friendly man from Inverness. The hire companies have the ground floor of an airport multi-storey car park, so the terminal was only yards away.
There was time to kill before our teatime flight to Heathrow, but lunch, gift shops and books helped. While waiting for the BA check-in desk to open, we chatted to a splendid volunteer, Derek, who was helping on the general information desk. He had been brought up in London and joined the RAF at the end of the war, as soon as he was able to leave school. He was happy to talk to us about his life in the UK and Canada while leaving his wife to help other inquirers.
The flight was on time, with the weather clear enough for a good view of the Rockies as we flew into a speeded-up night. We landed in London around 11am when our heads were still at 3am Vancouver time. We were well looked after, even if there was no choice left for the evening meal. Wide seats, blankets, complimentary bar and a good choice of “seat back” entertainment helped. The brief stop at Heathrow was smoothed by use of the BA lounge with food, drinks and newspapers, although we were surprised and disappointed to be subjected to a full security check again, including ditching the water we bought in the terminal in Vancouver.
We flew into a sunny Manchester to be greeted by all our transferred luggage and my brother acting as chauffeur, with his Canadian partner. They looked after us royally until we were thinking in UK time again, when they headed off to Toronto. Now to attend to the post, the garden, the laundry ……….
The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is just north of the main route into Vancouver. It was developed around the route of an early 20th century logging flume, and there is now a 450 ft suspension bridge for walkers, a tree-top trail and a walkway suspended from a cliff edge, plus guided nature walks and lots of informative detail – I’ve now seen a banana slug!
Rain had been forecast, but didn’t really get started until we were sitting over lunch.
We met our good friend Julia’s mum for dinner. She booked us a table at Bridges, a smart restaurant on Granville Island. The island has had a chequered history but is now home to a large farmers’ market, many artisan craft outlets, a brewery, a distillery and a number of arts venues. Bridges overlooks the harbour area, so was a perfect setting for our last evening in Vancouver and also serves exceedingly good food. We took advantage of the ferry service between the pier near the hotel and Granville Island – much more fun than driving.
So endeth the last full day in Vancouver and in Canada.
Wednesday was put aside to visit a friend from way back who now lives in Washington State. Having expected a simple catch-up over lunch, which we had in a lively café in the naval town of Everett, she whisked us off for a whistle-stop tour of Seattle. The whisking became more of a gentle stir as the authorities had closed part of the main Vancouver to Seattle highway so that the Chinese premier, Xi Jinping, could visit a nearby Boeing facility.
In Seattle we saw the famous Pike Place Market and travelled on the monorail to the Space Needle, the tower built for the 1962 World Fair. We all had dinner in a very good Italian restaurant, where we watched the numerous police cars and motorbikes escorting the returning Chinese entourage. If there had been protesters, they weren’t in evidence. The two hour drive back to Vancouver was uneventful and the Canadian Border agent was considerably more welcoming than the US one had been in the morning.
The ferry to Vancouver sailed from Nanaimo in bright sunshine, unlike the grey drizzle that greeted us on Thursday.
We found the hotel without too much trouble (Sunset Inn on Burnaby Street) that we’d chosen for its central location. To our delight, we opened the door on a large room that included dining area, fully equipped kitchen and balcony. The view wasn’t great, but enabled us to identify most of the restaurants on the adjacent street, and the mountains are visible between the skyscrapers. Downtown Vancouver is a place of great contrasts, with new developments alongside old detached houses and small parks with a short walk to the coast, which varies from huge container docks to small coves with beaches and rock pools.
Our first afternoon was spent wandering the “West End” from Robson Street with its very smart shops to Davie Street, heart of the gay community and full of cafes and food shops representing any number of nationalities and including the Transylvanian Bakery (yet to be tried) and the Ghurka Himalayan (tried and acceptable).
Tuesday 22nd was spent walking to, from and round the Vancouver Aquarium, setting off along English Bay, across a corner of the 1,000 acre Stanley Park and admiring the yachts in Coal Harbour. The Aquarium was very impressive and takes its conservation role very seriously, even to all the food and drink containers being totally recyclable. Recycling is big here. It’s the first time I’ve had a hotel room with 4 bins for different types of rubbish.
Saturday 19th was reserved for whale watching. Getting to the base in Sidney needed an early start, as we hadn’t realised that it was the best part of two hours’ drive from our Lantzville B&B. The roads were quiet and we were easily on time for a 10am start. Decked out in black and red survival suits, we joined the other 6 adults and 3 children with guide and “driver” in the RIB. There had been a sighting of the largest local pod of orcas some distance away and would we mind a longer trip? We then had a rollercoaster ride getting away from the harbour and the wash of two container ships, before skirting a number of small islands on our way south. We soon learnt to trust that the driver would not hit any of the wood debris in the water or take a wave at the wrong angle. Luckily the sea was very calm and the weather dry. Our guide was very familiar with the orca pods and was able to point out individuals, including one of this year’s three calves. There are three “resident” pods or matriarchal groups, known as J, K and L. We sighted J pod, the largest group, and one of the males greeted us by jumping out of the water – the only time it happened, to the frustration of the photographers. Orcas have lifespans that are similar to humans and the oldest in J pod, known as Granny, is 104 years old, but she was keeping herself to herself.
We got back to Sidney sometime after 2pm and warmed up with coffee and chowder in a tiny (and remarkably cheap) café at the end of the boat dock, belying Sidney’s change, over the last fifty years, from a small, end-of-the-road town to a smart resort with expensive property. We then made the short journey to see the farm where A’s family lived at the end of the 40s.
Sunday was Victoria day, repeating the journey south in a more leisurely pattern. We stopped at Duncan, another town that re-invented itself after the collapse of a local industry. It is now famous for its collection of totem poles, mainly commissioned and with a mix of traditional and modern images.
Victoria has free on-street parking on Sundays, so we were able to leave the car without keeping an eye on the time. We strolled round the harbour area, admiring a couple of multi-million pound yachts, watching the sea-planes come and go and smiling at the tiny ferries (they take about 12 people) that scutter at speed in all directions across the water.
We walked up to Government House, the residence of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, where the gardens are open to the public, although the café isn’t if it’s Sunday. Although it’s less than a mile from the harbour, it is not well signposted and you have to want to find it. After a pleasant walk around, with very few other visitors, we started back via Craigdarroch Castle. This is a pseudo-Scottish baronial castle built at the end of the 19thc for Robert Dunsmuir, who had made his money (something approaching $20 million in 1900 terms) in coal and railways. The family story was less than happy and within 20 years the castle was sold. For most of its time since then it has been in institutional use and is now run by a charity that has searched out many of the contents listed in the 1908 house sale in order to recreate the family home. It is an amazing time capsule.
Our luck ran out when the rain hit on our final walk back to the car and we then missed a sign and had a rather scenic trip back to the main highway. The rain cleared in time to spot the turning to Jingle Pot Road, which we’ve now passed several times. There are two explanations linked to the area’s mining history: one is that a large stone would be rattled in a cooking pot to signal the end of a shift, the other is that prudent miners would save some of their wages in a teapot or cooking pot in the house, which would jingle when coins were added. Take your pick.
Today’s editorial correction – the Ghost Town is at Three Valley Gap, not Three Lake Gap, just in case anyone tries to find it.
We set off from Chilliwack after a leisurely morning to get the ferry to Vancouver Island; the Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay service to Nanaimo. If you drive to the end of Highway 1, you get to the ferry terminal so the only challenge was the slow traffic in Vancouver. The ferry takes a little over an hour and has land in sight all the way.
It was a short drive to Lantzville and our B&B at Ele’s Escape – Ele being the Old English Sheepdog and reflecting our host Barbara’s passion for elephant conservation.
Our first full day on the island was drizzly, but we set off north-west to Coombs, where there is a huge delicatessen known as Goats on the Roof. It was a shame we weren’t self-catering because the range of local foods was staggering. I could forgive a lot of the toys and gifts being made in China. Other shops have been established nearby selling models, antiques, garden statuary and other foodstuffs.
Heading further west, we stopped at the Cathedral Grove in McMillan Provincial Park. It is a small accessible area in the far larger temperate rain forest and is home to huge Western Red Cedars and Douglas Firs, along with many that have fallen and are in various stages of decay, acting as nurseries for new plants and saplings. Combined with moss hanging from the trees, abundant ferns and other damp-loving plants, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a dinosaur emerge.
We pressed on to Port Alberni and decided that the west coast of the island would be too far, so we would have to come back on a future visit, perhaps in a couple of years’ time.
Before getting back to our B&B, we walked on the local beach and collected a few sand dollars as keepsakes. They are the remains of a flattish sea urchin, a couple of inches across, with a five-petalled pattern on the shell.
It’s a long drive from Golden to Penticton, but we gained an hour by moving into Pacific Time. We broke the journey at Three Lake Gap, where a couple set up a restaurant and hotel and spent the rest of their lives putting together a “ghost town” of buildings rescued from elsewhere in the area and the things to fill them. There are 42 buildings, plus a roundhouse full of old railway stock and memorabilia, another building with old cars and yet another with larger vehicles.
Penticton is a reasonably attractive town, once you get past the ranks of shopping malls on the outskirts. It is helped by being between two lakes which are popular summer destinations. It is also the centre of a thriving wine industry in the Okanagan Valley, but because of the strict drink-driving regime, the wineries are best visited on a tour and by just staying overnight we missed out. …… but the Best Western, our stop for the night, did have a much needed launderette at a bargain price of $3 (£1.50) for detergent wash and dry.
Penticton to Chilliwack was also a fair old distance with a huge variety of scenery, from acres of fruit farms to seriously steep hills through the Allison Pass, ex-goldmining villages, and stretches of verdant farmlands in valley plateaus, reminiscent of the Austrian alps. In places, we were very near the US border and we drove up to a high viewing point in Manning Provincial Park that pointed out more US mountains than Canadian ones. We were entertained by chipmunks and ground squirrels that obviously know the viewing point is a good source of picnic scraps.
Our overnight stop was in Chilliwack, that doesn’t warrant a mention in most of the guide books, but needs to sell itself. The town centre is full of good eateries and quirky shops. In particular, Chilies, a Thai restaurant had excellent food and beautiful surroundings and we could have spent a day in The Bookman, a huge second-hand bookshop. There is also a smart Court building, where lawyers in three piece suites were in sharp contrast to the usual casual Canadian style, plus a small, friendly museum with a succinct history of the area.
The best gem was the Royal Hotel, converted from a bank in 1908 and still looking like something out of a 1930s cowboy film, with photos and stories from its history on the wood-panelled walls. We had one of their “antique” rooms, which meant claw-foot bath (with shower), brass bedstead and huge, decorated cast-iron radiator – but all the plumbing and electrics are totally up-to-date.
To rejoin Highway 1 we had to retrace our steps towards Lake Louise. Having driven north in balmy temperatures and sunshine on Saturday, we found ourselves driving south two days later in snow. We had probably seen enough glaciers, including a close view of the one feeding Cavell Lake, so we were not sure we wanted to take the Icefield tour. When we got there, it was freezing cold with minimal visibility, so it was easy to drive past.
The Icefield Centre and the vehicles that go onto the glacier are run by Brewsters, a family firm that started in tourism in Jasper over a hundred years ago. Now most of the coaches on the roads around Jasper and Banff are in their livery and they seem to have a near-monopoly on all the local tours.
We seem to have developed lake fatigue and have decided that future stops will need to have a unique selling point rather than just a nice view.
Back on Highway 1, just into British Columbia and with the rain easing, we passed a long freight train, which was great news as we were near the Spiral Tunnels; two tunnels that allow trains to tie themselves in knots in order to reduce the gradient. This link will give you some idea, although we watched our train go the other way. It took about 8 minutes (on my video – too big to load) from engine to last coach to go into the tunnel.
Our other stop was at Takakkaw Falls (top picture), which had been recommended, but we found them rather fiddlin’ and small – must be the time of year or a case of lake fatigue.
We stayed overnight at a B&B, Auberge Kicking Horse in the small town of Golden. It was in a quiet residential area and breakfast was interrupted by a fleeting visit from a bear that ambled across the front drive and disappeared behind our car. It’s a half-grown black bear that has made its home in the neighbourhood.
The road from Banff to Jasper is just under 300 kilometres of picture perfect scenery, along the Icefield Parkway. This had conjured up visions of non-stop glaciers, but they are only one part of the mix of rivers, lakes, mountains and trees, with autumn colours just beginning to show in brilliant sunshine.
The highest point is the Bow Pass, where we made a short stop to see the view down to the Peyto Lake, which is glacial and the typical milky blue colour caused by the sediment in the water.
The only fuel stop on the route is the lowest (literally) point on the route at Saskatchewan Crossing. When we saw the fuel prices had been hiked by 30 cents a litre compared with Banff, we decided we had plenty enough to get to Jasper. The car park attracts a number of tame-ish ravens who hang about for pickings but, like all good Canadians, they are not aggressive. Using the panoramic display near the road, we identified Mount Forbes, the 8th highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
We ran into two car “jams” on the next stretch, one for a female elk paddling in the river, happily snorting and pawing the water. The other was for a small group of mountain goats that had crossed the road to the water and were then helped back across the highway by smiley people holding up oncoming traffic.
The last stop was at the Athabasca Falls, where a wide stretch of river is channelled into a narrow and steep canyon where the water thunders down. It was sad to see the dedication to a young man of 24 who had slipped and fallen in to his death just three years ago (Sept 6th). Hopefully people will fully heed the warnings in future.
Jasper is quite small compared to Banff and doesn’t have the continuous flow of tourist coaches. We stayed at the Whistlers Inn, which is like a Tardis – quite a sizeable hotel almost invisible on the outside.
On Sunday (13th) we took a boat trip on Lake Maligne, which was relaxing and informative. We made the effort to get there early so that it wasn’t particularly busy. Some of the mountains around the lake form the Queen Elizabeth range, given by Canada to the Queen on her coronation. As the guide said – what do you give a woman who has everything?
In the afternoon we took a minor road out to Mount Cavell, named in honour of Edith Cavell. The books we’d seen told us to expect a pot-holed and twisty road, but the road fairies have been out in the last few months and left a beautifully paved road, fully two vehicles wide. Although it has a few twists and turns it would hold no fear for anyone who has driven in the Chilterns, the Peak District or any other hilly part of England.
It was a steep climb from the car park at 1750 metres to the top viewing point at over 2100 metres, but we saw the Angel Glacier and the resulting glacial Cavell Lake. On the way down it started to snow, but it didn’t stop us watching the antics of a Pica (think guinea pig crossed with mouse) and several hoary marmots.
Our next venture into the wilds of the Rockies was a walk out of town across a small wooded area to the Vermillion Lakes, which are known for attracting migrating birds, but we only saw a few ducks. The views of Mount Rundle made it worth the walk.
We later took off too Lake Minnewanka (pronounced Minniwonka, luckily) where we walked round the lake until we got to the bear warnings. All the parks are very clear about the safe walks versus the areas where you should be in a group, carry bear spray and know how to deal with unexpected encounters. At this stage, I was still a bit nervous!
On Friday we set out towards Lake Louise, probably the most photographed lake in the Rockies, but our destination was a few miles away on Mount Whitehorn. We took a ski-lift chair up the mountain and joined a guided walk, a very steep 2 hour guided walk, where a very likeable post-grad introduced us to the geology and botany of the area. It was well worth the $15.
On the way down, again by ski-lift, a lady travelling in the opposite direction shouted “Bear” and pointed, so we turned round to see a grizzly bear wandering up a ski run between two banks of trees. Our first and ex- sighting.
We had bought a ski-lift ticket that included a buffet lunch, which turned out to be extremely good value, as the extra £4 gave us drinks, a choice of hot and cold main courses and a couple of sweets on an “all you can eat” or “all you want” basis.
We walked off lunch around Lake Louise, which is smaller than the photographs would suggest and for much of its length is as crowded as Brighton Promenade. We had a pleasant drive back to Banff along the old highway, now the 1A, which is single lane and much quieter than the main Highway 1.