Canada 2 – Visits to Vancouver and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

14th – 26th July –  Leaving behind Alberta’s amazing Banff and Jasper National Parks, we slowly make our way towards Vancouver, passing through the edge of the Thompson Icefield  and following the enormous Thompson River.  Just north of Kamloops and we pull in at Pinegrove Campground and RV Park, a welcome stop after a long, very hot and stressful day of driving.  It’s 7pm and still 35 degrees and we are told it will reach 40 again tomorrow.

Highway 5 going south has been incredibly busy and huge trucks and fast cars are easily travelling at the 100km speed limit and probably a bit more.  With only one lane on each side of the highway, we have either been forced to travel a lot faster than our comfort zone or continually having to find places to pull into to allow traffic building up behind us, to pass.  These spaces are not always easy to come across and neither is it easy to pull in when you have someone who is trying to keep as close as possible to your rear end!   So Bill is not very happy when we stop at a gas station and an elderly lady makes a point of pulling in behind us to tell us that she was the 5th car in a queue behind us out on the highway and that to keep people waiting is apparently against the law!  The truck drivers we notice, are the only ones to acknowledge us when we manage to find a space to pull in safely.  People seem to be living at a fast and impatient pace here!

The forests remain but the mountains are disappearing fast and after following them for so long it feels strange.  We bypass the big town of Kamloops and are at last on a 3 lane highway where we can keep in the slower lane.  Rest areas we discover, are few and far between and the next service station, another 111km!  We are told it will be cooler on the coast.  Trans Canada Highway 1 will now take us all the way into Vancouver,  where we stay at the Plaza RV Park in Surrey, one of Vancouver’s vast suburbs.

Vancouver’s excellent Sky Train can seem a bit confusing at first, but get it straightened out and it means you can fly past traffic on elevated rails as well as underground, to a variety of destinations.  We also have a bus stop right outside the campground and are within walking distance to supermarkets etc. in one direction and to the very relaxing Bear Creek Gardens and Art Gallery, in the other.

Vancouver is a city that has earned a good reputation over the years for its quality of life.  It has we are told, one of the largest Chinese populations outside of China and over 50% of the city’s residents are not native English speakers.  As well as the very attractive neighbourhoods and towns offering upmarket shopping, entertainment and dining, we also see a lot of desperate poverty in certain areas.

A big thank you to the Land Rover specialists in North Vancouver.  Rovalution Automotive on 3rd Street, have our air, oil and fuel filters ready for us. We also get both oil and brake fluid changed.  Moisture is found in the brake fluid, which could have been the cause of our brakes heating up and losing power on long, mountainous, downhill stretches in the past……this had been a bit alarming when journeying back and forth over the Andes in Colombia!  Very helpful people here and careful workers, well experienced with Land Rovers.  We would definitely recommend a stop here if one is needed for parts or work.  Also good to know that they are willing to send out parts if required, elsewhere on our journey.

Catching the ferry in late afternoon sun, from Horseshoe Bay across to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.  We have heard such good reports about this Island and are looking forward to our visit.  It was not long ago that the island was rated as one of ‘The Top Ten Islands in the World!’  It’s a relaxing, one and a half hour crossing and it’s easy to find The Living Forest & Oceanside Campground in Nanaimo on arrival, although it is expensive plus the taxes, which always catch us out in Canada because they are rarely included in the prices.

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The exposed top of a submerged mountain range, Vancouver Island stretches for 460km from sophisticated Victoria in the south to the windswept and rugged coastline at its northern tip.  Warm, Pacific Ocean currents, give this Island one of the mildest climates in Canada.

It’s thankfully a little cooler here on this eastern side of the Island.  We are impressed with the towns of Parksville and Qualicum Beach, where it’s great to find supermarkets that have a wonderful selection of fresh fish and a good supply of organic fruit and vegetables.  Heading south to Victoria, our first stop once we arrive is Fisherman’s Wharf, with its floating village of unusual, wooden houses.  Each home is  colourfully unique, some decorated with large murals or artwork while others have floating gardens with flowers overflowing from window boxes or hanging baskets.

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This stretch of water is in constant use by tour boats heading out for whale watching, float planes, ferries and water taxis, as well as plenty of cheeky seagulls and the resident harbour seals that pop up for food offerings.  It’s a great place to sit on the dockside and watch the world go by, whilst eating a fish and chip lunch from Barb’s Plaice.

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Victoria has retained a large number of historic buildings in its city, its two most famous landmarks downtown being the Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel.  There are different forms of transport to choose from to enjoy the city’s sights as well as the Buskers Festival that’s providing plenty of street entertainment and drawing the crowds.  The city’s historic and lively Chinatown dates back to the arrival of Chinese labourers in the province after the discovery of gold in 1858 and is definitely worth a visit.

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Taking the road west now out of Victoria, along a narrow spit of land that takes us through the Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary and views of the Fisgard Lighthouse, Canada’s oldest West Coast lighthouse.

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Low tide in the lagoon produces an abundance of food, particularly shellfish, attracting many birds and other wildlife.  Seabirds and waterfowl return to spend the winter months here, making it the busiest season.

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At nearby Whiffen Spit, we are lucky in seeing a group of otters fishing and playing in the water, before disappearing amongst some rocks for safety.  Bald eagles are apparently around and they could possibly  snatch up the younger ones.

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A heavy mist is rolling in from the sea as we turn north from Port Renfrew on the western side of the island, toward Lake Cowichan.  It’s a shock to see the amount of deforestation in this area.  The once, densely forested slopes are now covered in bare patches, many right to the top.  Camping by the Chemainus River tonight.

Leaving Nanaimo on the ferry today and returning to Vancouver on the mainland where we make a visit to one of Canada’s National Historic Sites, Stanley Park.  Named after Lord Frederick Stanley, Governor General of Canada in 1888, this park covers 1,000 acres of forested peninsular with many spectacular views, gardens, hiking trails, beaches and sports facilities.

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You can take as long as you like to explore this green oasis in the heart of Vancouver, but if you are interested in totem poles, then discover the secrets carved in wood, at a great display located at Brockton Point, on the eastern corner of the park.  Carved from Western Red Cedar, every carving on each pole, tells a story of the First Nation People and their land.  For example, the eagle represents the kingdom of the air, the whale…..the lordship of the sea, the wolf…..the genius of the land and the toad….the link between the land and sea.  Many of these totem poles now are replicas, the originals having been placed in museums or galleries for preservation.

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A number of ship collisions in the waters around Brockton Point, led to the construction of a lighthouse there.

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We hope to return to Vancouver Island later in the year to discover more but plans for our journey ahead include driving the Dempster Highway to Inuvik near the Arctic Circle and with the months rolling on and more places to visit en route we need to begin moving on!

From Vancouver we head north to Squamish, its skyline dominated by a massive granite monolith, regarded as an important spiritual site by the First Nation People.

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Squamish we discover, has an excellent Visitor Centre, that includes a very popular coffee shop with tasty home bakes and free wifi, plus an interesting gift shop.  Said to be the centre for all outdoor activities, it’s definitely worth a visit…..if only for the coffee and cakes!   Klahanie and Eagle Vista both provide camping, and it’s at the latter one morning, that we discover a little mouse has made a nest on top of Moby’s engine using insulation felt from under the bonnet.  He must have thought it was the most perfect place for a nest, warm and with an abundant supply of cosy nest material!  Fortunately once his hiding place is discovered, he quickly disappears, hopefully back to where he belongs in the surrounding woods.

We get our tyres balanced and a nail removed from one of them which fortunately hadn’t pierced the lining, before heading further north to Whistler, a very popular and attractive town where the surrounding mountains provide skiing and snowboarding in the winter.  No camping available here however, everywhere is full due to the Ironman Triathalon Competition taking place this coming weekend.  We drive still further north to Pemberton where we know of a Provincial Park.  So far, we have found camping in these parks just perfect……big, clean and private sites in attractive, natural surroundings and this one is no exception, situated by a river.  Don’t expect to find modern restrooms however, as pit toilets are usually the norm plus cold water,which is usually potable.

From Pemberton we plan to continue north, following what was once, British Columbia’s  original Cariboo Wagon Road and Gold Rush Trail.  In the 1860s, much of this region was the centre of a huge gold rush that brought gold seekers from all corners of the world, hoping to make their fortunes.  Travellers today we are told, can still trace the region’s gold rush past, ‘through a landscape that appears airlifted out of an old western.’  It should be an interesting journey!

 

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