Monday, October 11, 2021

West Coast Travels: Day 8 - City Tour

After seven full days of exploring British Columbia we have finally made it to our final day. Early tomorrow morning  e will be boarding a plane back to Ottawa. I am not one to take my foot off the gas however so made sure we had a full day of exploring Vancouver by foot. 

With a beautiful blue sky to greet us we started our walk with a stop at Rocanini Coffee Roasters. With a drink in hand it was only a couple more minutes to reach the Plaza of Nations ferry dock where we hopped on a False Creek Ferry to take us to Granville Island  Granville Island began its transformation from an industrial wasteland into a cultural and artistic hub since the 1970’s. While there we explored the public market, found some gifts, ate lunch, and were entertained by several buskers. After a few hours we hopped back on the ferry and headed to English Bay. From there we began our long walk to Canada Place.. Along the way we were greeted by the views of English Bay and shopping along Denman Street and Robson Avenue. We passed by a Marble Slab ice cream shop so we had to stop for some ice cream creations. Our goal was to reach Canada Place by 5:00 pm since we had a fun reservation at an attraction called FlyOver Canada. FlyOver Canada utilizes state-of-the-art technology to reveal some of Canada’s most awe-inspiring sights as you have never seen them before. You hang suspended, feet dangling, before a 20-metre spherical screen while the film whisks you away on an exhilarating 8-minute journey across Canada. It was also interesting visiting Canada Place again. When Canada Place first opened it was used as the Canada Pavilion during the 1986 World Exposition that took place in Vancouver. The Canada Pavilion has been acknowledged as one of the best-ever host nation pavilions at a world exposition. It was during Expo 86 that the Vancouver SkyTrain also opened. My Dad was involved in the implementation of the SelTrac communications based moving block system to provide the functions of automatic train operation used by the Vancouver SkyTrain. Today the system is the oldest and one of the longest fully-automated, driverless, rapid transit systems in the world. Due to this involvement our entire family travelled to Vancouver to attend Expo 86 and the Canada Pavilion with its iconic sails was indeed one of the highlights of my trip as a young child.

With the day and our vacation coming to a close we ordered some takeout sushi online which we picked up on the way back to the hotel. We have an early 6:00 am departure from our hotel in the morning in order to catch our 8:30 am flight back to Ottawa.

Coffee on the False Creek Ferry

Granville Island

English Bay Beach

Ice Cream! 

Canada Place

Lots of walking!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

West Coast Travels: Day 7 - Canyons and Views

We are nearing the end of this vacation but it isn’t quite over yet. With our first full day in Vancouver we decided to visit some sights just outside of downtown. This was also our last day with the car so we made sure to take advantage of it. To start we headed off to Lynn Canyon Park. Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver has been open to the public since 1912 and features a stunning suspension bridge towering 50m over the canyon. Lynn Canyon Park has grown to over 627 acres over the years and contains many trails to explore amongst the 80 to 100 year old trees. After an hour of exploring we were off to Cypress Mountain. On the way up this mountain road is a stunning view of downtown Vancouver. We stopped here to enjoy the view as well as eat some lunch.

With our stomachs full we were back in the car to work our way closer to the airport in order to return the car. Where to next? How about under the Cambie St. Bridge? Why would anyone want to see the underside of a bridge? Well it just so happens that an augmented reality artistic installation has been added under the Cambie St. Bridge called Voxel Bridge  The underside of the south end of Vancouver’s Cambie Bridge has been transformed by artist Jessica Angel into a 19,000 square feet public art installation that comes to life as the biggest blockchain-based augmented reality experience of its kind. At first glance, the artwork takes the form of a massive two-dimensional vinyl mural that wraps the pedestrian walkway, supporting columns, and underside of the bridge, providing an immersive experience reminiscent of a computer circuit board slightly askew.

We were getting very close to the airport now but decided one more stop was needed. Just south of the airport in Richmond is Terra Nova park. The expansive park opened in 2014 and includes a play experience unique to the Lower Mainland. It is the result of an extensive and highly successful community planning process, and reflects the agricultural traditions of the area and complements the City’s growing collection of innovative parks. The play environment represents a major departure from other contemporary playgrounds in that most of the features are custom designed and manufactured using British Columbia sourced Yellow Cedar and sustainable design practices.

It was then finally time to return the car and then hop on the Sky Train back to our hotel in order to enjoy a turkey dinner from a nearby restaurant since it was Thanksgiving Sunday.

Our last day in Vancouver is tomorrow. What will we get up to next?

Saturday, October 9, 2021

West Coast Travels: Day 6 - Back to the City

Our brief stay in Whistler has come to an end and we are once again on the Sea to Sky highway but heading 120 km south this time all the way to Vancouver. Since we didn’t have too far to drive meant we could still have a relaxing morning at the resort with some more swimming plus some time to stroll around the village and check out some of the stores. As the morning came to an end we finally packed up the car once again and began our journey south.

I hope by now it won’t be surprising to find out I had a few stops planned along our route. The first stop was only a few kilometres south of Whistler at Train Wreck trail  Train Wreck trail is one of Whistler’s most unique locations that only recently was even accessible by the public. Celebrated for its visual juxtaposition of metal and nature, history and culture, Whistler’s infamous “Train Wreck” used to be off-limits because access to the site involved walking along the railway tracks. The site, long favoured by local graffiti artists, photographers, trail runners, hikers and bikers became a legit tourism destination with the opening of a new suspension bridge spanning the Cheakamus river in 2013. How the boxcars got here dats back to 1956 when a train traveling to Vancouver derailed in the narrow passage. With not other means to remove the damaged boxcars they were scattered like Yahtzee dice among the towering cedar and fir trees lining the mighty Cheakamus River.

Our next stop was Brandywine Falls, only a few more minutes away on Hwy. 99. The waterfall is an amazing sight as it tumbles 70 m straight down into a massive canyon which has been carved out over the passing of time. The name Brandywine is believed to have come from a wager between two surveyors for the Howe Sound and Northern Railway over the height of the Falls. The closest guess winning a bottle of brandy(wine).

By now the rain had caught up with us so we got back in the car and drove the remaining route non-stop all the way to our hotel in Vancouver. Well that is not quite true. Since we were passing by Squamish we did pop by for a quick beverage and snack from Sunflower Bakery & Cafe. This popular spot is well known for its donut creations (but including gluten free!) as well some great coffee and tea choices to go with them.

We finally arrived at our final hotel for the next three days and had a little bit of time to relax before it was time to head out for dinner. We actually had dinner reservations this evening in Yaletown since we were meeting up with a co-worker of Shannon’s that lives in Vancouver. It was great for them to finally meet in person and we all had a delicious meal too.

Train Wreck Trail

Brandywine Falls


Friday, October 8, 2021

West Coast Travels: Day 5 - Sea to Sky

Our brief stopover in Squamish was already over and we were about to travel the final 60 km North to Whistler. Considering on how short the drive was we still had a lot planned on the journey and even ended up tracking the most steps (20,000) than any other day during our travels.

First up we had a few local attractions in Squamish to visit. These were Shannon Falls and the Sea to Sky gondola. Shannon Falls is composed of a series of cliffs, rising 335 metres above Highway 99, making it the third highest falls in the province. The tumbling waters of Shannon Falls originate from Mount Habrich and Mount Sky Pilot. The Sea to Sky gondola takes you 885m above sea level where sweeping of views of the Howe Sound and coastal mountains welcome you from every direction from multiple viewing platforms, a suspension bridge and many trails. Both of these experiences in Squamish were amazing and we could have explored both for longer if there was more time.

Eventually we were back on the Sea to Sky highway heading further north into the mountains towards the ski resort of Whistler. Whistler is currently in its shoulder season as the snow required for skiing hasn’t arrived but the mountain bikers were still enjoying what the hill has to offer. For us, we were there mainly to relax at the Westin Resort and Spa. I also had a surprise planned for the evening that can only be done in Whistler. In the evening we headed slightly further north to Cougar Mountain. It is here that you can find Vallea Lumina. Vallea Lumina is a multimedia night walk in search of hidden wonders. The walk takes place in the forested surrounds of Cougar Mountain by igniting the senses with an immersive light show. The entire experience was well done and a magical journey for all of the senses.

As you can see even though we didn’t cover very much distance this day was our fullest yet so needless to say by the end we were all quite tired and ready for a well deserved sleep. Tomorrow we will have a lazy morning before leaving Whistler and heading back down the Sea to Sky highway to our final destination of Vancouver.

Sea to Sky gondola

Mount Tantalus

Thursday, October 7, 2021

West Coast Travels: Day 4 - On the road to Squamish

The time finally came to say farewell to Vancouver Island as we continue our travels around British Columbia. We had a full day ahead of us as we had a 3:30 pm ferry in Nanaimo to catch on our way to our next destination of Squamish.

Our day started by packing the car back up and leaving the cabin we had called home for the past three days. Before starting our long journey towards the Cowichan Valley along the Pacific Marine Circle Route we squeezed in one last beach visit. Sandcut Beach was only a few minutes away and only involved a very short hike to the water. In addition there was also the promise of another waterfall. After arriving on the beach the view was amazing again but we never ended up finding the waterfall.

The drive along the Pacific Marine Circle route becomes even more remote once leaving Port Renfrew. This former winding logging road was only recently paved over as it winds its way by more old growth forests on the way to Lake Cowichan. From there the road opens up and was only a quick hop to Duncan where we finally caught back up with the Trans Canada highway which we last saw four days ago. Once on the highway we arrive at departure bay in Nanaimo in no time where we waiting for our ferry back to the mainland.

After another enjoyable ferry crossing we left horseshoe by and immediately started to head north on the famed Sea to Sky highway  There are few roads that are able to pack so much awe inspiring scenery than the legendary sea to sky highway does. Our first leg of the journey only took us 40 mins towards Squamish where the mighty Stawamus Chief lingers over the town. The Stawamus Chief is one of the largest granite monoliths in the world. Another very famous granite monolith I have also had the pleasure of visiting is El Capitan in Yosemite.

With our arrival in Squamish it had been a very long day so we grabbed some delicious Mexican food from Mags99 and then enjoyed the pool (including a water slide!) at our hotel.

Farewell “Daisy”

Sandcut Beach

Pacific Marine Circle Route

On the ferry

Arriving at Horseshoe Bay

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

West Coast Travels: Day 3 - Mystic Beach

Today our one and only goal was to hike the Juan de Fuca trail to Mystic Beach  This is a 4km out and back that takes you through more impressive temperate rainforest, over a suspension bridge and ends at a secluded beach with a waterfall. Come along on the journey with us!

We are only staying five minutes away from the Juan de Fuca trailhead which is where the hike to Mystic Beach begins. This allowed us to arrive early enough to be well ahead of all the day trippers and gave us the entire forest to ourselves to explore. The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail follows 47 kilometres of wilderness stretching along the western shoreline of southern Vancouver Island. While completing the entire trail can take anywhere between 3-5 days we were happy just to tackle the first 2km. Along these first 2km however was still plenty on impressive rainforest, lots of fun bridges to cross, am exciting suspension bridge and a dramatic staircase leading to Mystic Beach. Once on the beach we had some much deserved snacks to refuel ourselves and then explored the beach including its impressive waterfall cascading from the cliffs above. Eventually it was time to head back the way we came and return to the car.

Next up was a stop at Shirley Delicious. This is a very popular cafe along the Pacific Marine Circle Route and they also offer plenty of gluten free options which made me happy. I ordered a breakfast blend tea with a gluten free peanut butter and chocolate muffin, Shannon had a mocha and the girls both got a salted caramel cheesecake. Everything was delicious just like their name promised.

While we had avoided the rain so far, by now it was 3:00 pm and the rain finally started to come down. So, we got back in the car and drove back to our AirBnb to warm up by the fire and relax for the rest of the evening.

The Vancouver Island leg of our vacation is now also wrapping up. Tomorrow will be another travel day as we head back to the ferry towards are next destination.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

West Coast Travels: Day 2 - Hiking, hiking, hiking

As we slowly get over our jet lag we are waking up very early each morning. While this does mean we are able to get an early start to the day we also are pretty tired by the time 8:00 pm rolls around.

With our first full day on the island the plan was to tackle several hikes along the Pacific Marine Circle Route. Our AirBnb is very close to the Juan de Fuca provincial park which stretches all the way to Port Renfrew. Also, since it is October in the Pacific Northwest we of course were greeted with rain on our first day too. 

Our first stop was Sombrio Beach. Sombrio Beach is about half way along the Juan de Fuca marine trail and is only about a 250 m walk from the trailhead to the beach. Once on the beach we were greeted with large cobbled stones plus a few hikers setting up camp. We ventured further east along the beach in search of a secret waterfall. This waterfall is hidden at the end of a small creek inside a mossy green gorge. It took a while to finally get there but the experience was worth it in the end.

We hopped back in the car and continued along the Pacific Marine Circle Route towards Port Renfrew. We then continued past Port Renfrew into the hillside along Gordon River in search of Avatar Grove. Avatar Grove was saved from logging by the Ancient Forest Alliance in 2012. Some of Canada’s oldest and tallest trees can be found in this grove. By the time we arrived the rain had started again but that didn’t stop us from venturing into the forest. There is both an upper and lower grove and both were spectacularly beautiful. This was the main reason I even planned this entire leg of our travels so was very happy to be able to visit and appreciate this forest.

By now we were a little wet and also starting to get tired and hungry. We headed back to Port Renfrew, picked up some snacks from the only grocery store and then drove back to our cabin. We had planned to also check out Botanical Beach in order to check out it tide pools but in the end we decided no one had the energy to do so.

Safe and sound back in the cabin we fired up the wood burning stove to warm up and then started dinner. We also were greeted by “Daisy”, the owner’s dog who visits us every day for lots of belly rubs.

More hiking tomorrow!

Sombrio Beach

The hidden waterfall

Avatar Grove

The sun came out briefly

Monday, October 4, 2021

West Coast Travels: Day 1 - Ferries, Fish and Forests

Welcome to a brand new blog series. It has been just over two years since my last entry due to a little thing called COVID-19 that curtailed any travelling since March 2020. But, here we are in October 2021 and my family and I are back out exploring own country this time around. We have headed all the way to the west coast of Canada. 

After landing in Vancouver and spending our first night near the airport our first destination was Vancouver Island. Specifically, we are exploring the Pacific Marine Circle Route for three days before heading back to the mainland. We are renting a cabin in Jordan River as our home base. Jordan River is about one hour from Victoria and is popular for its hiking and amazing surf.

First I need to rewind to the beginning of the day. We still needed to get ourselves from the airport all the way to our cabin in Jordan River. This involved catching the 10:00 am ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay on the way to Victoria. We made a brief stop in Victoria to visit Fisherman’s Wharf for some lunch. I specifically picked Fisherman’s Wharf due to The Fish Store being there. Not only is the Fish Store able to purchase and process fish directly from the fisherman but they also have gluten free options. I opted to have the BC halibut fish & chips and it was amazing! So fresh and flaky. Next was a stop at the grocery store to stock up on supplies to keep us going for the next few days. Finally, we joined Hwy 14 and the Pacific Marine Circle route towards Sooke and our final destination of Jordan River.

Our AirBnb in Jordan River is a small two bedroom cabin nestled amongst the trees of the Pacific Northwest Rainforest on Vancouver Island. From here there are plenty of beaches and hiking trails to explore. We plan to tackle several of them over the next couple of days.

On the ferry to Vancouver Island

Yummy fish & chips

Our AirBnb cabin