Visiting Canada, EH!
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Where are you from?
As a Canadian expat living in Ireland, I am asked this question with a lot of regularity. So let me try to answer it.
I have moved 25 times in my life. I have lived in 6 different cities in Canada and 3 counties in Ireland. I was born in Kamloops, B.C. and subsequently spent the next 10 years of my childhood in Prince George, B.C. During my high-school years, I resided in Port Alberni (Vancouver Island) and as soon as I graduated, I moved to Victoria (the capital of B.C.). My college years were spent in Vancouver before I relocated to Ireland and I've been on the Emerald Isle ever since. 12.5 years to be exact! Just call me the Travelling Wilbury.
So I decided my inaugural blog would depict my travel experience to my native home land Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. I hope you can visualise its grand beauty and that it encourages you to take the leap over the pond.
First thing's first, booking the flights. I always fly with British Airways because of the comfort and customer service. It's a 9.5 hour flight from London Heathrow to Vancouver so if you can afford it, reward yourself with a business class ticket for comfort alone. With a business class ticket you have access to the BA executive lounge in Heathrow. This prepares you for the flight ahead with access to a spa, champagne, endless treats, comfortable chairs and charging stations. For those with a less disposable income, look at premium economy which is slightly more comfortable than economy. #elemis #moet
Our journey begins boarding B.C. Ferries. Get outside on the deck to experience the snow capped mountains, the waves rippling behind the ship, the eagles diving for fish and you might even see killer whales (we did!). The beauty is unparalleled to any other country I've visited. For all you shopaholics, definitely check out the gift shop and check out the beautiful native art work and clothing. And for all you burger lovers, get in line for the Whitespot eats. Do not miss an opportunity of having a Whitespot burger, nom nom!
We arrived to Nanaimo, collected our rental car and headed north east to Black Creek for a family reunion.The picturesque location was something out of the film, A River Runs Through It. Our cabin was spacious, modern and equipped for our stay. Our patio door opened onto a river where we saw deer sprinting by and plenty of other wildlife to keep us entertained. You get the best of both worlds... modern living, Wi-Fi and a camp fire out back for roasting marshmallows and telling horror stories. #glamping
After two days in Black Creek we packed up the car and ventured further north to Painter's Lodge. It's renowned for salmon fishing, wildlife tours and serenity. I would recommend the loft suite (you pay a bit more) however it's a spacious two-level loft with amazing views. That afternoon we boarded a zodiac for an ocean wildlife tour which was absolutely spectacular. Dolphins were following alongside our zodiac at such speed whilst the eagles were perched in the high douglas fir trees calculating their next meal. Salmon fishing was on the agenda the following morning however, we must have brought bad luck as we didn't catch anything. Don't worry... you'll hear about another salmon fishing expedition shortly.
We departed Painter's Lodge and headed east for Port Alberni. Our Airbnb accommodation was nestled on Faber Road which is on Sproat Lake. It was a few minutes walking distance to the lake and as soon as I dove into the fresh water, all the vestiges of my teenage years came flooding back. Sproat Lake is home to the Martin Mars Water Bombers and if you're lucky enough to witness the planes scooping up lake water on their training believe me, you won't ever forget it. The next day included a salmon fishing excursion where we caught 6 large chinook salmon! The excitement of it all and I didn't even break a nail.
As you descend Mount Arrowsmith you'll be amazed at how scenic the drive is. We entered Cathedral Grove which is a rare endangered remnant of an ancient Douglas fir ecosystem. We encountered trees of such tremendous size that it leaves you speechless. Once you leave the provincial park, you meander around a glass like lake.. The placid, turquoise water is inviting and it won't be long until you're diving in. Go on, give everyone a glimpse of that bronzed body you've been working so hard to show off!
My favourite part of Vancouver Island is the drive from Port Alberni to Victoria. Make sure to stop in Coombs and visit the market with the goats on the roof. Pull over in Nanaimo and take the small water ferry to the Dinghy Dock Pub on Protection Island for excellent pub food and craft beers (did I mention it's a floating pub?). Don't bypass Chemainus until you've viewed the murals, totems and all its charm. As you ascend up the Malahat Drive and reach the summit at 1,156 feet (it's known as the most sacred sites on Southern Vancouver Island), it's time for a pit stop. The Moon Water Lodge was a lovely surprise. The stunning views will keep you occupied but the cuisine and ceasars will make you smile.
Our final destination on the Island is Victoria. It's the capital of British Columbia which is a dead giveaway when you arrive. The colonial city steeped with Victorian architecture is rich in culture, fragrances and tranquillity. One might think the Queen of England resides here when you stumble across the parliament buildings but you can always visit her majesty in the Wax Museum!
We decided to go whale watching which departs from Victoria's downtown inner harbour. What an exhilarating experience. Killer whales were in our view and it was a sight I will never forget. This is necessary for anyone visiting the Island as it's an extraordinary adventure watching these majestic mammals glide underneath you.
Let's chat about Sooke. If you haven't heard about the Potholes then you've been hibernating. It's known for its deep polished rock pools and canyon-like features and you won't get closer to nature than Sooke. Relive your youth and take a dip!
On a more serious note (because I'm thirsty), let me introduce Sooke Oceanside Brewery (SOB). When you arrive to the brewery you are welcomed with open Irish arms and craft beers. Founded by Ryan Orr (former executive chef at the high-end Clayoquot Wilderness Resort) this brewery has gone from strength to strength. The craft beers include an IPA (Springboard), a red ale (Renfrew), a blonde ale (Bonfire) a pale ale (Stiff Jab) and my personal fav, Dry Irish stout (Reena O'Reilly, named after our grandmother). All cleverly assembled on an iron tray shaped of the one and only, Vancouver Island! Irrespective of the family connection, this remarkably talented entrepreneur has transcended his brand. From the moment you enter the brewery you'll quickly notice that its authenticity, credibility and reputation is accurate. Plus as they say in Ireland, the craic is mighty!!
Our last excursion in Canada ends in Vancouver. This electric, buzzing metropolis should be seen by all. We ventured up to Grouse Mountain (free shuttle during the summer) and disembarked on the base of the mountain. I hope you're not afraid of heights because you can't escape it here. As soon as those doors close on the cable tram you're ready to rock. The skyride ascends to the summit but not before you sail over two towers. Turn around and take in the views at 1,610 meters.
Check out the grizzly bears in their own habitat as it's the only time you'll ever be up close and personal (you hope!) Such magnificent animals and with every breath, every step and every grunt...they'll overwhelm you. Next is the birds in motion demonstration. It doesn't sound as exhilarating as grizzlies but guess again. You'll witness the hunting skills of the eagle, hawk and falcon. Just avoid holding any ham sandwiches! #afraidofheights
And finally, your day wouldn't be complete without hydration. Conclude your visit at Latitudes Bistro for a cocktail (or two) while overlooking the grandeur of the Lower Mainland, 3,700 feet below.
Worthy mentions in Vancouver - Take the taxi ferry from False Creek to Granville Island. Eat steak & lobster at The Keg Restaurant wand don't forget to order a caesar! Visit Urban Fare market in Yaletown, Stanley Park, visit the museums, Science World, China town and take advantage of all the nom noms. Vancouver is a hub for all cuisines. An eclectic mix of nationalities, flavours, infused spices, produce, meats and seafood.
Vancouver is regarded as one of the best cities in the world and if you visit, you'll see why.
Thank you Canada. I am proud to be Canadian.
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