Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Journey through British Columbia

It was spring and time to plan our trip for the year. We decided to fore go our typical escorted and tropical all inclusive holiday and try something different this year. I have a cousin who lives in Vancouver so it was decided that we would fly to British Columbia, rent a car, visit with him and travel around Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and the BC interior.

The next question, having never organized a trip on our own, was how to go about it. I decided to do some internet searching to see what I could find for travel ideas. I happened to locate a number of Circle Tours of BC at which included some great information on tours designed to assist in planning your journey by road through British Columbia. It was everything we needed.

We decided on 2 specific circle tours; namely the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island and the Coastal Mountains.

The Sunshine Coast
Follow a winding ribbon of road north from Vancouver up the scenic Sunshine Coast to Powell River before crossing the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island on a BC Ferry. Travel down the east coast of Vancouver Island to Nanaimo, or further south to Victoria. A second ferry experience completes the circle in Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver.
Approximate Distance: 360 km (excluding ferry trips)
Approximate Duration: 3 to 5 days.

The Coastal Mountains
Head north out of Vancouver on the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway to the magical winter resort town of Whistler, and continue on to Lillooet and Pemberton. Cross paths with two historic routes, the Pemberton Trail and the Gold Rush Heritage Trail, which linked the coast with the interior in the days before the automobile. Return via the Okanogan and Fraser Valleys.
Approximate Distance: 850 km (excluding ferry trips).
Approximate Duration: 3 to 5 days.

My sister, who was a travelling companion on the trip, is a member of the Canadian Automobile Assoc. (CAA) so she ordered detail maps of these area’s and the CAA helped us book the rental car as well as get discounts on the hotels in Vancouver and Victoria. I booked our return Westjet flights on-line with

The next order of business was to map out the day by day itinerary for the 2 week trip so that we knew when to book the 2 Sunshine Coast resorts that we had found on-line in Tofino and Halfmoon Bay. Because the Sunshine Coast circle tour required us to take 4 ferries (Tsawassen to Swartz Bay, Comox to Powell River, Saltery Bay to Earls Cove, Gibson to Horseshoe Bay) we needed to find out what the BC ferry schedule was for each ferry so that we could co-ordinate our driving schedule with the ferry schedule. This was the trickiest part of the planning process because 2 of the ferries only ran a couple of times a day. Once that was figured out the planning was complete and the journey begins.

We flew from Toronto to Vancouver, picked up our rental car at the airport and found our way to the Best Western in downtown Vancouver to rest for our next days visit with my cousin who would be our tour guide around Vancouver.   As you can see below Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, at least that I have ever seen, with its location on the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains in the distance. That’s when the sun is shining of course but it can also be one of the wettest places too.

On day 1 we spent the day visiting places like Gastown where a still functioning Steam clock goes off every hour, Canada Place where the Alaska cruise ships embark from, the 2010 Winter Olympic Flame, and Stanley Park which is famous for its wildlife, flowers, and scenery of the mountains and the city. We made our way over to Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver North where we were able to prebook all of the ferries rides that we were going to take the first week. This was very handy as we didn’t know how busy it would be at each ferry stop to buy tickets and risk missing the ferry. We topped off a great day with an outdoor dinner of fresh Pacific Salmon at Sammy J Peppers restaurant in the Grandville Island marina. As we ate dinner we watched a baby seal eating the scraps from fishermen that were cleaning their daily catch. It was entertaining to watch. We also got a very interesting picture of a blue heron close-up as well as 2 raccoons playing in Stanley Park as shown below. Interesting that it was in the middle of the day and raccoons are nocturnal animals. A passing dog spotted the raccoon and becomes very scared wondering if the dog was going to have him for lunch.




We said goodbye to my cousin until next week when he would join us for the Coastal Mountains circle tour. On day 2 we leave Vancouver and drive approx 2 hours south to the Ferry docks at Tsawwassen for a very scenic 90 minute ferry ride through the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. Leave plenty of time (at least an hour) before the ferry leaves to account for traffic line-ups as this is the busiest ferry crossing.

From Swartz Bay it was less than an hour’s drive to Victoria for our 2 night stay at the Best Western Carleton Plaza. We had plans that day to meet a friend who lives on Salt Spring Island for a late lunch at a seafood restaurant called Spinnakers on the harbour in Victoria. After lunch our friend showed us around Victoria and the beautiful oceanfront properties. Finally the sun came out and we enjoyed a nice walking tour of the harbour and the Fairmount Empress hotel which is the oldest and most famous hotel in British Columbia which was built by the Canadian Pacific Hotels between 1904-1918. It is now a National Historical site of Canada and famous for its afternoon tea that is served daily for the public willing to pay over $100 for tea and pastries (we took a pass).


On Day 3 we visited Butchart Gardens which is a world famous 50 acre sunken garden completed in 1921 and built from an old gravel quarry. Because of Victoria’s temperate climate, flowers can bloom here all year round.

Day 4 was a long drive, traveling over 300 kms of rough terrain from Victoria to the farthest west in Canada you can go at Tofino on the Pacific Ocean.  I had reserved on-line at Middle Beach Lodge in Tofino so we needed to make it there by mid afternoon. Along the way we made a stop at Chemainus which is a small town known for the murals painted on all of the downtown buildings.  It was a little ways off the highway but worth a short stop.  

From there we stopped at Nanaimo, famous for their Nanaimo chocolate bars, where we walked along the beautiful waterfront.  It was sunny but a very cool and windy summer’s day so the walk was short and brisk.  At Parksville we headed west along the Pacific Rim highway towards Tofino.  By the time we had lunch it was getting late but we had to stop at Cathedral Forest for a walk through the giant Douglas Fir trees; some of which are over 800 years old.  It is a must stop so allow yourself about 45 minutes.


We finally made it to our destination at Middle Beach Lodge located right on the Pacific Ocean with spectacular views.  A couple of comments I would make about the lodge is that it is located in a very peaceful setting with wood d├ęcor and great home cooked meals.  The main lodge was a very quiet place where people come to rest, relax, read and play board games.  It is not a place to make any noise in fear of disturbing people.  A bit too quiet for our taste but it was beautiful and peaceful indeed.


We decided to eat dinner at a popular Tofino restaurant which was right on a beautiful cove.  It was well worth the hassle of trying to find this hidden place as the sun decided to make a brief appearance long enough for us to take some nice pictures from the restaurant.


On day 5 we booked a whale watching expedition in hopes of seeing some whales.  Here on the Pacific coast there is a lot of rain and fog and today was no exception.  But it did not let it damper our spirits as it is good weather for spotting whales.  We were fortunate enough to see about 15 grey whales and 3 humpbacks so it was another thrilling experience for the Jackson's.

After our whale watching expedition we headed back along the Pacific Rim highway to the town of Parksville on the Georgia Strait. We had timed this overnight stop so that we could make the 2 ferries at Comox and Saltery Bay the next day. There were only a couple of ferry trips scheduled so if we missed one we would not be able to make our reservation at Rockwater Secret Cove resort on Halfmoon Bay. Upon reaching Parksville the weather had suddenly turned sunny and very hot. We decided to stay at the Sunrise Ridge hotel because it was brand new. While the rooms where large we didn’t know that the air conditioning was not working and it was close to 35 degrees Celsius in the rooms. It was an unbearable sleep because it was also hot outside so there was no breeze to cool us off. We were glad to leave.

We got up early the next morning on day 6 to a bright sunny and unseasonably hot day which was perfect viewing weather for our 2 ferry rides. The crystal blue skies made the lakes and mountains spectacular for picture taking.

By the time we completed our second ferry crossing from Saltery Bay to Earl’s cove it was mid afternoon and we still had an hours drive to Rockwater Secret Cove.  On arrival we knew we had found another gem of a location as the scenery was beautiful along the Bay and the restaurant overlooked the cove.  It is indeed a Secret Cove and well worth the stay.  The staff was busy preparing for an outdoor wedding the next day and on this night there was a pre-wedding party in a tent setup overlooking the water.


We woke up on day 7 to more hot weather as it has now turned an unseasonable hot, dry 35 degrees and it will remain that way for the rest of our vacation. This is my kind of vacation weather. Because our last ferry ride back to the mainland was only an hour away we decided to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the resort before taking a leisurely scenic drive along the water to Gibson’s Bay were we caught the ferry to Horseshoe Bay. We had now completed the first leg of our journey along the Sunshine Coast and the scenery was gorgeous. I give this a 5 star rating.


We made our way through the Vancouver traffic to my cousins home town of Port Coquitlam. Here we stayed at the Poco Inn and Suites. The manager offered us a free upgrade to a 50’s fantasy suite and of course we took it. As nice as it sounds it was a bit over the top and an impractical room layout but it was interesting to say the least. The room was huge with a part of a car on the wall and a huge jacuzzi only a short dive from our bed.

We begin our second week heading north along the newly reconstructed Sea to Sky Highway along the beautiful Coastal Mountains.  My cousin is with us and he will be our tour guide for the week.  This is a beautiful drive through the coastal lakes and mountains from Vancouver to Whistler where they held the downhill skiing events at the 2010 Winter Olympics.  On the way we stopped for lunch at a forgettable diner but there was the beautiful Shannon Waterfalls nearby.

We arrived high up in the mountains in Whistler Village to a hot 33 degrees which is unheard of so high in the mountains. After booking into the Crystal Lodge we decided to take advantage of the clear viewing conditions by taking the Whistler cable car from Whistler peak to Blackcomb peak. It looks like a very scary ride as there are no cable tower supports spanning across the many kilometers. But it is a very smooth ride and the scenery is breathtaking.


From Whistler we headed east towards the interior of BC. It has become very dry and there are forest fires to the north as we can see the haze from them. The mountain scenery was quite beautiful until we reached the motel in Cache Creek called Bonapart.


Now the Bonapart motel was very plain but it had some interesting history. If anyone has seen the blockbuster movie2012 with John Cusak and Woody Harelson that was released in 2010 this is were part of the movie was filmed. The actors and film crew stayed at this motel. In fact my room was where John Cusak had stayed….true…so it must have been the presidental suite (lol). There was a log cabin styled restaurant just down the street called the Bears Claw which is a good place for home cooked meals and highly recommended.

On day 3 of this leg of the trip we decided to head into the Okanagan Valley. As we entered the Okanagan region, known for it’s hot climate, fruits and wineries, the scenery had turned to almost desert like conditions by the time we got to Kamloops. Here we stayed at the Best Western Plus which is situated on top of a hill with nice views of the valley. We ate dinner at the Chapters Viewpoint restaurant with a picturesque view of the valley, river and mountains (highly recommended). The pictures below were taken in and around Kamloops and we got this beautiful sunset picture while we ate dinner.



Day 4 was the part of the trip that I was looking forward to the most. This day would take us from Kamloops, down the picturesque Fraser Canyon and through Hell’s Gate which is a gorge with steep cliffs and strong rapids that is good for white water rafting. Hell’s Gate is a must stop so allow about 90 minutes to 2 hours to take a cable ride into the gorge, visit the museum and take lots of pictures.



From Hell’s Gate we left the Fraser Canyon and stopped at the town of Hope. Hope is best known for a landslide in 1965 where half of the mountain gave way and buried the TransCanada highway and 2 people along with it. From Hope we headed to the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel for an overnight stay at Harrison Lake.

Day 5 would only be a short half day drive back to Port Coquitlam and the Poco Inn Suites….without the fantasy suite this time. Day 6 would be our final full day in BC so my cousin showed us around the area at Cultus Lake, Buntzen Lake, and Belcarra Provincial Park. Now most people have heard of Terry Fox I’m sure. Terry is known for his brave but unsuccessful attempt back to run across Canada on an artificial leg lost to cancer. What people probably don’t know is that he is buried here in a Port Coquitlam cemetery only a few blocks from my cousin so we stopped and paid out respects to a true hero. 

Buntzen Lake


This concludes a very successful 2 week road trip. I hope you have enjoyed taking this journey with me. If you have never travelled to BC I highly recommend coming to this beautiful part of the world. I would rate this a 5 star vacation.