A Travellerspoint blog


steel and glass, water and trees

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Vancouver is amazing. Three simple words, but so much behind them! Having spent 5 nights here, I can hardly claim to know the city, but I have tasted some of what it has to offer, and have enjoyed it a lot... It is a hugely diverse, interesting and cosmopolitan place; yet is entirely Canadian. Open, active, outdoorsy and relaxed.

The list of 'things to do' is fairly extensive, and I must admit that I have hardly given most of the items a second thought... My days here have been spent wandering around, exploring the city on foot. Vancouver is laid out on a grid system, and as such is very easy to navigate. The downtown portion is almost an island, with Stanley Park to the north, Kitslano and the 'mainland' (I suppose) to the south, and the entire thing is surrounded by the most amazing seawall cycle / rollerblading / walking track, right next to the sea.

Stanley Park is a huge piece of land, largely undeveloped. The seawall track surrounds the whole thing, with a number of tracks and vehicular roads cutting through it. In fact, the only way to get from the south Vancouver to north (and West) Van is right through the middle of the park, before streaming over the Lions Gate Bridge.

I am amazed at how many people cycle, jog and walk everywhere. Although I can completely understand why, and I think it is fantastic! It is common to see cyclists on the primary routes, jostling with busses, trucks and cars on dual lane highways! Not a sight I've seen in many places, I think I would be a little nervous...

Something else that amazes me (especially having lived in London for a while) is the almost blind determination that they live in a sunny climate. So many of the houses / flats and outdoor spaces have a very summery, sunny feel to them. It makes them really nice (especially as the temperature at the moment is that lovely clean, almost brisk, autumn mid-teens) and welcoming spaces, and I get the impression that they would be equally used during the colder winter months. Even in the rain....

So, enough of my Vancouver musings... I arrived in Van on Thursday, having left Victoria a day early. After one night at a hostel in Jericho Beach (really nice but a little far away from the downtown area to be convenient) I moved to the much more central HI Downtown. The hostel is right in the centre of the downtown area, but on a quiet residential street. During the 4 days or so that I have been here, the only time I have taken a bus anywhere has been to get across to North Vancouver to go and see some friends there.

I spent some time exploring Stanley Park on the first day here, which was really great. Sadly, we took a wrong turn during our return through the park, so after walking along lovely empty forested tracks (in the pouring rain!) we came out onto the 'Causeway' - which is actually the 3 lane major highway that cuts through the park to get to North Van! As it was absolutely bucketing, and we were walking along the pedestrian track right next to the road, I spent the 15 minutes it took to get off it literally jumping to avoid spray from cars zooming by... I was solidly soaked at the bottom, and managed to sweet talk a nice sightseeing-bus driver to give us a lift to somewhere closer to our next destination!

Granville Island is a really nice redeveloped piece of land in between the downtown area and Kits. It is filled with small shops and restaurants, as well as a really cool (but expensive) market. We happily spent a couple of hours wandering around; smelling, looking and tasting the food on offer. Getting back to the city involved a really great walk along another part of the extensive seawall system (which also happens to be part of the Trans-Canada trail for non-motorized vehicles! the longest of its kind in the world).

I spent a while yesterday evening wandering along the eastern seawall, and I think that that was the moment when I started to love this city. The sun was setting, sky slowly turning that fantastic deep luminous blue, reflecting off the glass and steel skyscrapers that fill the city. As it was dusk, the lights inside the buildings were on, and the overall effect was fantastic. During the day, the buildings don't really appeal to me, but at this moment they were beautiful. Glowing, shining and fantastic.

Posted by tessab 21:14 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

4 busses and a ferry. and a visit to Victoria.

I'd recommend missing it altogether, personally. but maybe it is my bad 'Victoria Karma' that got my money stolen...

overcast 18 °C
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We arrived after a fairly long day on the bus from Tofino into Victoria, the capital of BC. What a surprise! As Victoria is rated by 'Conde Nast' as one of their 'top ten cities in the world to visit', I must be honest that I was expecting something more. The outskirts were typical - car dealerships, fast food joints and urban sprawl. What surprised me is when that didn't stop in the city proper.

After checking into the hostel, we left on a walk to Beacon Hill Park, where there is a viewpoint overlooking the ocean and Seattle on the US mainland beyond. Victoria is a couple of degrees warmer than the rest of BC (except the Okanagon semi-desert area) and gets a lot less rain, the park areas were a lot drier than any other area I've seen so far in Canada.


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genuine and 'acquired' history - don't you just love the timber-framed "brownstones"...

The city is named after, you guessed it, Queen Victoria, and a lot of the buildings and park areas are styled after Victorian England. I was quite sceptical of this, especially as I've lived in England for a bit and I have appreciated the real thing. To my architect eyes, the buildings and parkland were pastiche replicas, a shadow of the real thing. Apparently it is now largely maintained for the benefit of American tourists who flock over on package holidays. The American tourist invasion is seemingly endless!! Walking around Victoria did make me miss England.

The highlight of my 'Victoria Experience' was the waterfront area in between the parliament buildings and the Empress Hotel - they have done a really nice job mediating the change in level and wind to create a lovely promenade area. I was amazed at the profusion of flowers! In England, most of the flowers died off in August, here all the flower beds and baskets are overflowing with so many colourful and prolific blooms. Really pretty.

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So, here comes the part where my bad Victoria karma comes to play... This morning I woke up, anticipating a day at the Royal Museum of British Columbia and maybe some high tea at the Empress, opened my wallet to pay for something and found all my cash gone. I am normally quite vigilant, and split my money up etc, but I had left my wallet in my bag next to my head overnight, and obviously one of the girls had decided to have a look for a quick buck. Thankfully, nothing else (ipod, camera, cards etc) was stolen.

Quite a bummer, and as a result Andrew and I decided to check out a day early and head over to Van. The hostel was really mediocre anyway, and sleeping wasn't easy to come by. I spent most of the night tossing and turning on one of those plastic covered mattresses and woke this morning with a really sore back. The hostel has a cafe that they open to the public, and last night they hosted an 'open mic' night, which was terrible! My room also overlooked one of the main roads through the city, so the traffic noise was quite something. Even compared to my flat directly on Fulham Road in London! I am trying to think of positive things to write, but am really struggling. (Actually, the room had it's own fridge, which I though was quite cool) Maybe the past 2 weeks of travel have worn out my stock of superlatives!

So, after making a couple of phonecalls to find accommodation in Vancouver, we took the first ferry outta there! 4 busses, a ferry and 7 hours later we arrived at the HI Jericho Beach. Nice, quiet and in what seems like a great neighbourhood, I'm looking forward to exploring tomorrow.

Posted by tessab 19:02 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Tofino - bears, blisters and beaches

3 fabulous days in the Pacific Rim National Park

sunny 24 °C
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Tofino is amazing - the landscape is so different to any other part of Canada I have been in; yet even more spectacular scenery. The town itself is quite small, but buzzing with shops, restaurants and 'experience' orientated outlets. There are some great little eateries, although they are quite expensive and certainly seem to be enjoying the tourist dollar...

There are so many things to do, all focussed on Clayoquot Sound - the body of water into which the Tofino peninsula projects. Tofino is surrounded by an amazing array of islands, most of which are either uninhabited or with small First Nation communities. As most of the islands fall under First Nation 'governance', they are covered with amazing old growth forests - Cedars and pines that get up to 18m circumference!

Amongst the plethora of things to do (although most of them involved some cash outlay), we decided to do a hike on one of the islands about 15 minutes offshore from Tofino. We organised a water taxi out to Lone Cone Island - with strict instructions from the driver guy to call us within 6-8 hours to get back to Tofino. The island is populated by a small First Nations community, and has an elevation of 730m. The locals we spoke to said that is was a 'tough' hike, and various people told us it would take us anything between 1 and 2.5 hours to get up.... It ended up taking us a little longer than that, about 8 hours round trip! There was no track to speak of, the route was marked by pink ribbons, with an incline of what seemed at least 70degrees for most of the upper portion.

The footing was quite hairy; comprised of trees in various stages of decay, thick mats of needles and leaves and twisted roots and fallen trees - both overhead and underfoot. The view at the top made up for it all though. During the whole hike up the mountain we were surrounded by thick old growth forest - some truly huge trees - and as such couldn't get an idea of how high we were. There were no opportune openings to allow a glimpse of the view. So when we walked out just about a rock face, the view was breathtaking.

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It had been quite disorientating in Tofino, as the smaller islands off Vancouver Island (what the locals call the Mainland anyways!) are all over the place, and Tofino itself is on a peninsula, and I found it great getting a proper idea of how everything fit together. We could see the Pacific Ocean! I was keeping an eye out for whales ;) We spent a while chatting to an Irish couple who had made the ascent just after us (the only other 2 people to do the hike that day) who we ended up sharing the water taxi ride home with.

The hike down was amazing - I was stunned at the steepness of the route. It is one thing going up, another matter entirely going down... My neck hurt quite a lot from looking down all the time, but it was such an amazing experience. It was so quiet, and so special being one of so few people on this gorgeous mountain. Truly alone with the trees. Some of the cedars were breathtaking, especially higher up where more of them fall over regularly! I wouldn't want to be caught on the mountain below a swiftly descending tree...

One thing that does surprise me though is the biodiversity, or lack thereof. I suppose that I am spoilt, coming from South Africa and Cape Town in particular, but I expected there to be more life, more species in such an untouched area. We did see a few birds (a Pilated Woodpecker, a wren-like bird, a type of thrush and the obligatory Crows) but that is about it. Just different from I'm used to, I suppose. The vegetation was lush and prolific though, and along the lower stretch of the hike (getting to the base of the mountain) we walked for a couple of kilometres though thick undergrowth and mud and followed some interesting tracks for a while. I think (well, hypothesize ;) ) that they they could have been Cougar.

We celebrated our accomplishment with a very welcome six-pack at the hostel, the lounge of which happily overlooked Lone Cone Island! In typical Tofino fashion, we had a fabulous dinner of local wild salmon and calamari. The seafood here is so good!

The following day we explored the local beaches, opting for a walk of the more horizontal variety, and later in the afternoon I headed for the Tofino Botanical Gardens, which were really nice. On the way back I spotted my first bear!! Right close to the centre of Tofino, I was about to walk down a road down to the water and I saw what looked like a big dog on the road. After a bit of thought, I realised it was a bear! It checked me out, I got a photo and assessed my escape routes, and then it disappeared into the bushes! Really cool, I was so chuffed :) There are regular bear warnings throughout the town, asking that you contact the parks warden if you spot a bear. I didn't contact them, and in hindsight am glad that I didn't as I found out that they don't relocate bears that make their way into the town, but rather shoot them right away for fear of them becoming dangerous pests.

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I went on a boat-based bear watching trip early on Tuesday morning, leaving before dawn. I really enjoyed just being out on the water so early on, watching the sun rise and full moon set in between the islands and over the water. We did spot 2 bears, and it was great watching them in their natural environment, overturning rocks looking for crabs etc in the intertidal zone. We also spotted some otters, bald eagles and some Harps Porpoise. There were loads of salmon jumping in the inlets, and we also passed a salmon farm, which I found a bit disturbing. Good to see both sides of the story though, I suppose.

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I met up with Andrew mid-morning to do a couple of hikes in the Pacific Rim National Park, in the Long Beach area. There are a number of established trails through the rainforest that are really good, and we had lunch on Combers beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Andrew left to catch the last bus back to his hostel, and I continued on back towards Tofino along Long Beach. I walked until about 6pm, fairly swiftly along the beach, it was great stretching my legs and feeling the sand between my toes!

The beach along that ocean is amazing, littered with so much driftwood - not just little twigs and branches, but whole entire trees! I would be very nervous surfing on the beaches there because of the huge amount of lumber floating offshore, being swept ashore by the waves! It is like a giant is playing pick-up-sticks on the beach... More amazing scenery. A really memorable day, one of my best so far.

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Posted by tessab 21:04 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Inside Passage and trip to Tofino

whales, fjords and more stunning scenery

sunny 20 °C
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The Inside Passage ferry route connects Prince Rupert in the north (and thereafter Skagway for the Yukon or Alaska further north, or the Haida Gwaii / Queen Charlotte Islands to the west offshore) and Port Hardy right to the north of Vancouver Island. Most people on this trip are locals, holiday makers in RV's headed further north and a couple of backpackers, mostly coming down from the Yukon / Alaska. Some people treat the ferry journey as a cruise and make a return trip from either end. As the trip is stunning, and the ferry very comfortable, this is quite a nice thing to do if you are so-inclined, especially if you pay for one of the cabins on board. It is a much cheaper way of getting what many people pay huge amounts for on the cruise liners!

The route is fantastic, cutting through some truly spectacular fjords and in between so many islands, coves and inlets. The landscape is similar to that of Prince Rupert - really amazingly steep tree-covered mountains / rocks that crash into the ocean; a narrow grey and rocky intertidal zone surmounted by the dark green, lush conifers.

On the morning I left, it started out foggy but by 10am was entirely sunny. The early morning departure (7:30am) was stunning as the sun rising through cold and foggy air over the glassy ocean was breathtaking.

There were quite a few interesting characters on the boat, a lot of whom are involved in the First Nation communities, and in particular the impact of a proposed oil pipeline from Alberta to the coastline. One of the guys who had stayed in the hostel the previous night with me has been living on the Queen Charlotte islands for 8 years, and I spent a couple of hours chatting with him about life there. He spends a lot of time out in the forest mushroom picking, and has seen quite a few bears. (This came in reference to the white 'Kermode' bears [a sub-species of the Black Bear that and occur naturally on some of the islands off the BC coast] that we were trying to spot amongst the island trees) He told me a story of how he was camping once in the woods, and a bear was paying their camp a lot of attention. He took a baked potato out the fire, filled it with tabasco sauce and left it out for the bear. The bear promptly ate the potato, and Eric apparently spotted the bear a couple of minutes later in the stream: hindquarters in the air, mouth wide open and in the water - cooling off!! I can just imagine it; the stuff of Disney cartoons!

The scenery did change through the day, getting somewhat less spectacular in the afternoon. This was fortunate, as I was completely exhausted from a couple of late nights in Prince Rupert and the early start to catch the ferry. Once I allowed myself to go inside (I was determined to make the most of the scenery!!) I fell asleep for a couple of hours in the comfy chairs. During the afternoon, a couple of whales jumped right next to the boat, which was spectacular. A humpback whale also spent a while slapping the water with its fins, and a pod of what must have been more than 20 whales made their way past the ferry. It was a really peaceful, quiet and very civilized way to travel, and I recommend it to anyone who is in that part of the world. Next time, I'll be making my way to or from the Yukon!!

I spent that night in Port Hardy, a tiny little town right to the north of Vancouver Island. There isn't much to do in the town, although it does market itself as the 'bear capital' of Vancouver Island. A friend of mine did see one during his day there, and some people on the bus did see one on the way out of town. The hostel had even closed off access to their patio as a bear had been regularly raiding their kitchen. As the greyhound to Tofino left early the next day, I really only saw the inside of my duvet...

The trip to Tofino was long and tiring, the scenery was interesting (I was amazed to see snowcapped mountains and more glaciers on the island!) but logging seems to have taken its toll on a lot of the islands forests. The towns along the route were small, pretty seaside towns; dominated by logging and the sea.

I was very, very happy to arrive into Tofino, and it was good to have a friendly face waiting for my arrival! Andrew and I got a light dinner from a fantastic little shop and I greeted my first evening on the Pacific Rim with more of the amazing local wild salmon.

[photos to follow]

Posted by tessab 21:36 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Prince Rupert - 'city of rainbows'

which of course means loads of rain...

rain 14 °C
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I arrived in Prince Rupert after the two day 'Skeena' train ride, late in the evening on Monday. After a few checking in issues, Andrew and I headed out to try out the seafood for which this coastline is renowned. Sadly, the only restaurant open late was 'Zorbas' - a Greek (?!) restaurant serving cheap and cheerful food. It did fill the gap though, and sleep was quick to follow after!

The train ride into Prince Rupert was amazing, the Skeena Valley is just astoundingly beautiful. As I wrote previously, the thickly forested mountains crash into the steely grey, incredibly calm water. Unbelievably picturesque. Prince Rupert itself is the most northern town on the western coast of Canada, and according to the locals, thus qualifies as "the north". I quite enjoy this, as a visit to Northern Canada is one of my travel goals, but personally I think I'll only 'tick' that one off once I've paid a visit to the Yukon or Alaska.

Called the 'city of rainbows', apparently it rains here a lot... The first day I was in Prince Rupert was amazing though. The sky was mostly clear, it was fairly warm and stunningly beautiful. The town centre itself is pretty typical for a 'frontier wilderness' town such as this, but some of the older timber frame buildings retain a bit of the pioneer town atmosphere. The areas overlooking the myriad of islands and winding waterways are really beautiful, and I can only imagine that the winter storms bring an entirely different feel to the place.

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As Prince Rupert is half-way on the coast between Vancouver Island and Skagway (the Alaskan ferry drop-off far to the north) it is a regular stop-over for both cruise ships (mostly americans) and the regular ferry service (mostly locals and independant travellers, as well as loads of RV's). A cruise ship came in yesterday, and I was quite happy to avoid all obvious tourist spots (of which there aren't many) just to avoid the passengers. I did manage to share one of the local busses with a few though, and I was amazed that one of the passengers wanted to pay the $2.50 CAD fare with a $20 USD note, and get accurate change reflecting the exchange rate. On a bus! crazy stuff.

Andrew and I made the most of the sunny day and went on a great hike to Butze Rapids just outside the town. The micro-climate (loads of rain, relatively warm and thick boreal forest) means that the vegetation is incredibly lush and actually is quantified as a 'rain forest'. The 1.5hour hike slowly became a 3 hour meander as we both stopped seemingly every 15m or so to take photos of some cool slug, mushroom or leaves... My idea of a great way to spend an afternoon!

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We had got lunch from a really cool little independant coffee shop in town, and ate it overlooking one of the typical picture-perfect coves that are seemingly in endless supply. A sign at the start of the hike warned of roaming bears and wolves, and suggested singing and clapping to scare them away. I must be honest, I was really hoping that a bear or wolf (both of which I considered we were highly unlikey to see) would make an appearance, far enough away to feel safe, but close enough (of course) to get a photo. Sadly, this did not happen. I was keeping my eyes peeled though!

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Andrew left the next day (on Wednesday) to head to Vancouver Island on the ferry, and I made my way to the North Pacific Cannery - a museum 20km south of Prince Rupert in Port Edward - one of the last remaining Salmon Canning plants in BC. I had found a reference to this place in one of my internet travel forum searches, and found that they offer accommodation in one of the old bunkhouses. For $44.07 per night, I certainly wasn't going to give this a miss...

The Cannery is amazingly beautiful; abandoned in 1968 it is in a very picturesque state of mild disrepair, and in another (warmer) climate it would be one hellava lot more popular than it is now. As it is, I was the only traveller staying in the inn, the other 2 people there are lumberjacks who are staying there for the summer season. As such, it was incredibly quiet, the atmosphere was amazing. I had a double room to myself, and it was really good having a bit of space to myself for a change.

The museum curator is a young interesting guy from Ontario, and he spent a winter in the cannery as the winter watchman. As the cannery is so far away from civilization (8km from the nearest village) during winter it is incredibly isolated. He spent a while this morning telling me ghost stories, I was very happy he didn't tell them to me yesterday or I probably wouldn't have had the nerve to stay the night in this huge place pretty much alone! Apparently there was a Native village quite close to the site that was destroyed in a mudslide in 1782, and the curator has heard some freaky things when he has been alone at night... eek!!

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I went out for dinner last night to the (only) sushi restaurant in town. It was amazing! I more than satisfied my (in London, weekly) urge for raw fish. Apparently it is the best sushi north of Vancouver, although to be honest, I don't think there are many towns north of Vancouver on the coast... Vancouver Island, I suppose... It was great sushi though. Especially as both the Salmon and Tuna were caught locally, the salmon especially was such an amazing colour - the brightest pink salmon I have every seen! so tasty too...

I also went to see a First Nations story-telling perfomance, organised by the fantastic Museum of Northern British Columbia, which was really great. It seems that a lot of the local First Nations tribes are really working on keeping their culture alive. The town is filled with totem poles and First Nation iconography, and although a lot of it could be for the benefit of the cruise ship / bus tours, it does seem to be genuine.

So tomorrow I leave on the ferry to take the Inside Passage to Vancouver Island. I'm hoping that the weather clears a bit (after the first sunny day here, it has been raining non-stop ever since. No wonder the locals joke about growing webbed feet!!) so that I'll be able to see the mountains. Either way, it should be pretty spectacular. Whale sightings are common, and I am really hoping to see some Orcas, even though their season has passed already... I can always hope!

Posted by tessab 15:50 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

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