Blog - Vancouver, Whistler & Beyond
Guest blog by Matthew Broadbent.
We set off from England at around 10:30 and after a ten hour flight with Air Transat we touched down in Vancouver, though due to the time difference of 8 hours, it was only 12:30 in Canada when we arrived. However, after a 40 minute drive by private taxi from the airport through Vancouver to our hotel in Downtown Vancouver, we decided that we should take our first look at the beautiful city that we were staying in. And what better way to do this than by going up the Sky Tower, which was only a ten minute walk from our hotel? We went up the Sky Tower, and I was not disappointed because the view from the top was magnificent. On a clear day, which it was on the day I went up, you can see the whole city of Vancouver, and beyond to Burnaby, and even as far as the USA. Mount Baker in Washington State can be seen from the Sky Tower. It is not too expensive, and I would certainly recommend a visit there! After this, we were feeling very tired, so after a fantastic meal at Mahony and Sons restaurant we went straight to bed.
On the second day we were up bright and early for a whale watching trip with Vancouver Whale Watch, located in nearby Richmond. I was eagerly anticipating this trip, and hoped to see humpback whales and maybe even orcas. Unfortunately I was disappointed as no whales appeared, with a brief glimpse of a harbour porpoise being the highlight. It was a nice boat trip and the views were fantastic, but I still left feeling very disappointed, though we were given free tickets to return whenever we like until we saw whales. Upon our return to downtown Vancouver it was still a lovely day weatherwise, so we decided to go to Stanley Park, a large park with numerous trails, biking tracks, restaurants and an 8.8km seawall walk around the park. We had a walk around the park, where we saw a family of beavers and lots of squirrels along with lots of other fantastic wildlife. We also visited the famous totem poles in the park. After this, we had a meal in the restaurant in the south of the park, called Stanley’s, before heading back to the hotel. I would definitely recommend a trip to Stanley Park, especially for those people who like biking, walking or wildlife.
On our third day in Canada, it was time to leave Vancouver, though we would be returning. We took a ferry to Victoria, which is the capital of Vancouver Island. We were staying in a hotel called the Hilton Doubletree, where we received a very warm welcome from the staff, in the form of cookies. I was immediately impressed by the hotel, and the view from it was spectacular too. Victoria as a whole looked very nice, though there wasn’t much time to take in our surroundings because we had a tour of Butchart Gardens booked for later in the day. Butchart gardens, situated on the site of an old quarry, was very beautiful, though not my sort of thing, and I could tell my parents enjoyed it more than me. I would recommend the gardens to people who like plants and flowers, though not for more than a couple of hours.
On the morning of day four we went on the Craigdarroch Castle and More Tour. The tour took us around the city, with a stop at Craigdarroch Castle. I really enjoyed the tour, and it was interesting to learn lots of things about the history of the castle, along with the city as a whole. The views throughout were wonderful, and we saw some wildlife too, including deer and turkey vultures. In the afternoon, we decided to try our luck with another whale watching tour. The Prince of Whales were advertising that they had seen humpback whales earlier in the day so we decided to go on the three o’clock tour. Three hours later I was more than satisfied, having seen 6 humpbacks, along with seals, two types of sea lion, a sea otter and much more! It was a trip well worth doing!
On day 5 we left Victoria to travel to Whistler. Our chosen method of transport to get to Whistler was floatplane! At first I was a little bit apprehensive about travelling by floatplane, but in the end it was a fantastic experience, if a little noisy. The views of the mountains and surrounding areas on the journey to Whistler were breathtaking. When we got to Whistler we began to explore the village. It was a quaint little village, with many shops, restaurants and cafes lining the streets of the main village stroll. At the end of the village stroll you could get a gondola up to one of the main mountains in Whistler, Whistler Mountain or Blackcomb Mountain. We would be doing that tomorrow. So today we took a ride up Blackcomb Mountain in a jeep. It was very enjoyable and we learnt lots about the history, flora and fauna of the local area. I was fascinated by the fact that it was nearly 30 degrees at the top of the mountain, yet there was still some snow up there which hadn’t melted! We had a fantastic meal at Keg’s steakhouse that evening, and I would recommend eating there if you are in Whistler.
On day 6 we decided to do the Peak to Peak Gondola Ride. We went up a gondola to take us to near the top of Whistler Mountain, before taking a ski lift to the peak, then spent a bit of time doing the walks and trails at the top of the mountain and having lunch. We then took the Peak to Peak Gondola ride, an 11 minute ride across the valley between Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain. The Peak to Peak Gondola is the world’s longest unsupported gondola, and offers views of volcanic peaks, rainforests and glacial lakes. On the top of Blackcomb Mountain we walked some more trails, and on one of them we saw a hoary marmot, which is a fat, mountain dwelling rodent. The hoary marmot actually gives Whistler its name, because when it feels threatened it whistles! I would recommend a trip to Whistler for anyone who likes walking, mountain biking, winter sports, wildlife viewing or is just interested in the history of the area!
We left Whistler on the seventh day of our holiday to return to Vancouver, after having a brilliant breakfast at Elements Cafe, which was next door to our lovely hotel, the Summit Lodge Boutique. We travelled by coach on Highway 99, which is also known as the Sea to Sky route, because you travel both through mountains and alongside the sea when travelling along this route. The journey took about 2 and a half hours including a short break in Squamish. When we arrived in Vancouver, we went for another walk around Stanley Park, which I enjoyed again, despite the insect bites that my family and I received. We were staying in the same hotel we were staying in last time we were in Vancouver earlier in the holiday, which was the Pinnacle Harbourfront Hotel. This was a nice hotel with very friendly and helpful staff which I would definitely recommend staying in if you are visiting Vancouver.
On Day 8 of our holiday we did the Capilano Park and Grouse Mountain Tour with a company called Grayline. The first stop in this tour was the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, home to the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge. Crossing this bridge was a great experience. There was also a clifftop walk and a treetop walk, with fantastic views of the nature and scenery of the area. We then continued to the other stop on our tour, Grouse Mountain. After a trip up the gondola, we settled down to watch the Lumberjack Show, which was a fantastic show which I would recommend watching. It consisted of two lumberjacks battling it out in various challenges to be crowned the greatest. We also watched the Birds in Motion display whilst up the mountain which was a great chance to see birds of prey close up and learn about them. On top of this we saw the two resident Grizzly bears which were kept in captivity up the mountain. I even bumped into someone from my school by complete chance whilst up Grouse Mountain!
On the ninth day of our holiday we were back on the Sea to Sky route, but this time as a tour with Landsea Tours. Our first stop on this route was Horseshoe Bay. Here we had a drink at a cafe whilst looking out at the sea. Then we visited Shannon Falls, a spectacular waterfall coming from the peak of a mountain. After this we took a short trip to the Sea to Sky Gondola, then took the gondola up the mountain and then walked the hiking trails at the top of the mountain to look down on the wonderful views below. There was also a suspension bridge at the top of this mountain which we crossed. Our final stop on the Sea to Sky Tour was the Britannia Mining Museum. Although museums are not always my cup of tea, it was interesting to find out what the living and working conditions were for the miners and how the mine operated. There was also a nice surprise when we were travelling back towards Vancouver, as a small pod of transient orcas passed us in the opposite direction in the sea beside us. This was my first glimpse of these magnificent animals!
On the tenth day of the holiday we took a flight to Campbell River, where we would be staying for one night at the Comfort Inn hotel as part of the five night package with Knight Inlet Lodge, a grizzly bear viewing company. When we arrived at Campbell River airport, we took a 45 minute helicopter ride with 49 North Helicopters. I had never been in a helicopter before, and this was a phenomenal experience for me. The views were astonishing, from glaciers, to mountains to blue glacial lagoons, the whole area was absolutely beautiful. If you are in Campbell River, you absolutely have to take this Helicopter ride. After this we took a short trip to the hotel, and then had a walk around Campbell River, which is the salmon fishing capital of the world.
This section of our holiday was spent at Knight Inlet Lodge. Our accommodation for four nights was a lodge floating on Glendale Cove, part of Knight Inlet which leads into British Columbia from the Pacific Ocean. Knight Inlet Lodge is a company which specialises in grizzly bear viewing, along with whale watching, hiking and tracking tours. The Lodge held 40 visitors at a time plus around 20 staff. It consisted of guest accommodation, staff accommodation, a canteen, and a common room, with a pool table and a flatscreen TV. There was no wifi or phone signal at the lodge, but it was good to get away from the outside world for a few nights!
As soon as we had arrived at the lodge by floatplane from Campbell River, we went on our first bear viewing tour. These tours were done in small boats seating up to 7 people. We immediately found a mother and 2 cubs, and I was staggered by the number of grizzly bears we saw on this first trip, 11 in all, along with bald eagles, kingfishers and seals! Next, we went on the Inlet cruise, which was a cruise going partway up the inlet taking in the fantastic sights of the local area. We went past mountains, glacial waterfalls, and learnt lots about the First Nations people of the area. We even saw a black bear and a humpback whale! There was even time for another bear viewing tour before dinner.
On our second day at Knight Inlet, we did two further bear watching tours, along with a hike called the ‘Above the Clouds walk’. This offered some fantastic views and I learnt a lot more about the fauna and flora of the area. We also did a tracking tour, where we looked at signs of bears such as markings and rubbing trees. On this tour, we were lucky enough to see a wolf, the first one that had been seen in the area that year!
On the third day at the lodge we did the marine tour. This was a full day tour, and a wonderful experience. We saw a big pod of resident orcas, which came less than a metre from the boat and put on a show for us, along with lots of humpback whales, one of which jumped completely out of the water, and some sea lions.
We did a hike through the rainforest and a tracking tour on our fourth day, and on the fifth day we did another bear watching tour. Just before we left the lodge a black bear came within 30 metres of the lodge, and was fantastic to see just before we left.
I had a wonderful time at Knight Inlet Lodge! The staff were fantastic and enthusiastic and the wildlife was unbelievable. It was my favourite part of my holiday and I would recommend a visit for at least 3 nights.
When we returned to Vancouver 2 flights later, we visited the main shopping street in Vancouver, where I bought some souvenirs. Also in Vancouver we visited Gastown, which was Vancouver’s first city centre, and is home to the world famous steam powered clock.
On day 16 we took a flight home from Vancouver to Manchester Victoria, but not before we went on one further wildlife watching tour. We went on a rib ride from Horseshoe Bay, getting fantastic views of seals, eagles and sea birds
I had a wonderful holiday in Canada and really hope I go again one day.