A Travellerspoint blog

WEEKEND AT VICTORIA, VANCOUVER ISLAND

sunny 14 °C

Fortunately we were able to check out and in of our same accommodation and store all our luggage while we went to Victoria for the weekend. What a bonus for us as we head off in the morning to LAs Vegas and it has allowed us to get back into familiar beds and conveniently get all the washing done from the weekend. Thankfully we packed almost everything up before we left on Friday so we were quite well organised and could relax tonight.

After checking about travel arrangements to Vancouver Island we were rather stunned as to how much time we would have to allow for travel. We initially thought we could afford 2 nights but ended up deciding on just the Saturday night so we were comfortably back in Vancouver to ge to the airport on Monday without the stress.

To give us more time on the island we decided to splash out and instead of booking the bus and ferry both ways we booked a seaplane that would deliver us directly into Victoria Harbour and then the bus and ferry for the trip back on Sunday night. What a fabulous plan and definitely worth the extra if anyone is planning this trip. The sea plane was not only an awesome experience, it was an incredible scenic flight to fly at that height over Vancouver, the islands and then up the coast of Vancouver Island. We even flew over the top of Vancouver airport and watched a plane taking off underneath!
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It was another early start but it meant we were in Victoria by 8.30am and had decided to get the 4.45pm bus to the ferry on Sunday. This gave us 2 full days for exploring Victoria. We were all starving for breakfast so dropped our overnight bag at the Quality Inn and strolled off to a Dutch coffee shop down the street.

We had a most beautiful day, clear blue skies and perfect for walking about, checking out the sights.
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We started with Miniature World at the Empress Hotel. Beautiful display of scenes ranging from Canadian history to exotic dolls houses. Very intriguing and amazing works of obsession on all the projects, some taking over 20 years to build, complete with flushing tiolets!! I think the one us grown ups found the most amazing was a complete replica of a timber mill, all totally hand made with all working pieces. It actually operated the same as a timber mill but due to fire hazards couldn't be operated but instead showed a video with the designer explaining all the working pieces. The kids loved the parade and fair ground display the best and of course pressing every button that made "something" move!

After no luck with bike hire we decided a chardonnay in the sun and a lazy lunch looking over the harbour was a must. Victoria is great for people watching, I can imagine it would be a lot like Freo in the summer, but the fact that the sun was shining, all the motorbikes were out of the garage and cruising, so there was heaps to look at. A great lunch at The Local Bar and Grill, I enjoyed the best chicken burger ever! Not your average fare, the pesto and roasted vegies made it very yummy!!

I managed to convince Wayne that a trip to the Butchard Gardens were a must if you come to Victoria so we decided to go and hire a car for 24 hours and we could get out and take a better look around.

Saturday was the warmest day we have had since we have been away, I think it was a max of 14 at Victoria but it felt about 30 for us. It was perfect for a peaceful stroll around the gardens and enjoy all the stunning areas and floral displays. The spring garden was extremely fragrant and the variety of bulbs was amazing.
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The kids loved the Japanese garden the most with its meandering waterways and features. We spent a long time here and enjoyed the cool shaded areas. The kids amused themselves for ages playing leaf boat races under bridges and the open spaces of the park allowed them to let off some steam. The girls spent the entire afternoon riding their "horses" along the paths!

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We enjoyed dinner at The Sticky Wicket before collapsing into bed.

Sunday morning we decided to head off east towards Esquimolt Bay not really knowing what to expect or what we might see. The map showed a light house so we thought that was a good point to focus on. We came across the Canadian Forces Naval Base and while we couldn't get very close from here the security officer directed us around to Saxxe Point where he said we could view the last of 3 ships leaving the base off to the Middle East.

There were already a few groups of people at the point so after a bit of a wait we saw the fire boat come out the bay with spouts shooting water then afterwards the navy vessel came out behind. We were fortunate to be standing next to a lady, who was also in the Canadian navy and could answer all our questions. A few minutes later 2 helicopters flew right in front of us giving everyone a wave. We all thought that was awesome and Denver nearly had kittens with excitement.

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A further drive around the bay we discovered Hartley Castle and Historic Sight which was originally a private residence of a VERY wealthy family but now is part of the Royal canadian university. A beautiful building with huge grounds and once again lots of space for the kids to let off some steam. The cherry blossom trees through Canada at this time of the year have been stunning with many of the roads having them as street trees and adorning most parks around the city.

Our transport back to Vancouver was hassle free and another interesting mode of transport. The coach took us from Victoria to Schwartz Bay where itIMGA0018.jpg drove directly onto the lower deck of the ferry. From there we had a very scenic ferry ride through islands and across open water to Tswassen where we got back on the coach and drove off the ferry onto the highway back to Vancouver! The beautiful sunset across the water was a very special sight for our last night in Canada until the 8th May.
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Posted by fiveofus 01:31 Archived in Canada Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

SKIING AT WHISTLER

sunny 9 °C

Ever since arriving in Vancouver and talking to people about where we had been skiing, all the Vancouverians have said you must get up to Whistler! The ski season is a little longer at Whistler ( until April 20) so we did some checking on what deals were available. We hadn't planned on doing any more skiing but thought it would be pretty cool to take a look so we can recognise a few things in 2010 when the Winter Olympics are here and checkout how it compares to Big White.

We had kept a look out on the weather for the week and decided that Thursday was going to be our best option. Greyhound buses also had a Spring ski package that included return travel, ski rental and list passes which saved us hiring a car again. It meant a big day , bus pick up at 6.30am and return to Vancouver on the last bus at 6.30pm, but we were all very excited to get in another unexpected day of skiing.

The drive upto Whistler was a picture in itself, flanked on one side by mountains and the other a very picturesque Horseshoe Bay. The only down side is just about the entire length of "mountain" road is presently messed up with continuous road improvements for the Olympics. Already the crews are working 24/7 , blasting and preparing for the increased traffic in 18 months time! Should be a good road after 2010!

Whistler was a huge surprise to us. We expected just another ski resort but it literally has its own "town" a few KMs away and then the village which is enormous. We jumped off the bus and headed straight for the Visitor Centre to save as much time as possible. There were numerous places and businesses to hire skis so we grabbed some advice and took off at a cracking pace. We were so glad to have got the early bus as we were fitted and organised by about 10.30am , amazing how long it can take to get 5 people fitted with skies. A quick caffeine fix and a bite to eat and we joined the queue for the gondola up the mountain!

The 20 minute gondola ride takes you about 3/4 up the mountain and then there are other chairlift options from there. Thankfully we shared the gondola with a local couple who were a wealth of information about which way to do things. The day was clear and bright and we were all anxious to get out and enjoy these fantastic conditions. The mountain had received 2 cm of fresh snow over night so the powder snow at the top was very special. We could see the beginning of the construction of the first ever gondola that will join 2 mountains. Presently the concrete structures have been built for a gondola that will run between Blackcomb Mountain ski resort and Whistler with only 4 pilons . At a cost of 52 million it will operate all year round and will be open December this year.

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The runs were really long and some great challenging options for all of us. Once again the kids amazed us with their flair and ease and I think Mackenzie topped it on the enjoyment list and went on and on and on. She made me smile at the end of the day ( after about a full 4 + hours of skiing) she flopped on the snow with tears in her eyes, totally exhausted and said " I don't want to do it anymore". She was about 200m from the bottom!!

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We loved the opportunity to ski up here but were pleased to be able to come away and still be really happy with our choice of Big White for our week long holiday. Whistler was more crowded and commercialised, lots of shops and hotel style accommodation, eventhough everyone said it was a quiet day. The true ski in and out facilities were a huge draw card at Big White and a much more laid back and friendly feel to the whole resort. It will be exciting for us to see how everything looks come 2010.

The bus trip back was a very quiet one with all 3 kids sleeping the whole way to Vancouver and climbing into bed without a word.

Posted by fiveofus 22:54 Archived in Canada Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

BIRTHDAY IN VANCOUVER

overcast 6 °C

It was my goal to be in Vancouver for my 40th birthday, so here I am. Having this goal has kept us all so focussed over the last 18 months and it is so exciting and rewarding to now be able to share all these fantastic experiences with the family. I think it is finally sinking in with the kids as well what a significant event this is going to be in their life. Hopefully they will look back on their days in Canada and remember the special events and family time we have had while being here.

I started receiving messages from home on the 8th over here as we are about 15 hours behind. On the morning of my birthday I was showered with home ( apartment) made cards from the kids with beautifully written special messages and trinkets they had picked up for me over their last couple of days of shopping. All specially selected and purchased with their own money, I was very impressed! Wayne wrapped up my new camera ( the one that has taken all the great photos on the blog) and re-presented this to me as well with the promise of some personal shopping time later in the day! Yeh , some adult time !

My choice was for eggs benedict at a Parisienne cafe down the road but unfortunately they weren't open for breakfast. We found eggs but they were very average compared to what I was hoping.

A wander downtown through the shops was next on the agenda but again all I managed to find was a groovy hat. No-one was hungry for lunch so we decided to jump on a bus and explore. We ended up over the water at the Maritime Museum! Quite interesting and passed a few hours before we all came home for an afternoon nap.

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All pre made plans seemed to go out the window. We had booked tickets for the ice hockey on the 9th. Not really what I had expected to be doing on my 40th but it was the only night we could go and it was one of our "must do's". We thought we could do an early dinner but all the kids went to sleep and we ended up racing it to get the bus to the stadium. Hence my dinner was a burger at the ice hockey and my "bubbles" was a Smirnoff ruski in a plastic cup!! lol. Wayne still plans to make up for all of this !

All in all, the ice hockey was fantastic. Vancouver Giants were defeated by Washington DC 3-2. Awesome skills and to hear the thumps against the screens had us all going ooohh and ahhhh.

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Thanks to everyone that sent their best wishes for my birthday, if I haven't had bubbles with you yet, I will definitely have more than one when we get back.

Posted by fiveofus 22:23 Archived in Canada Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

VANCOUVER

rain 4 °C

Everyone was very excited about getting to Vancouver for Friday night. The last two days, since leaving Jasper were quite big days of driving with an over night stop in Kamloops.

We had been advised to not be too late getting into Vancouver to avoid peak hour traffic and we thought we were doing quite well expecting to arrive about 3pm, however we hit road works about an hour out of the city and ended up smack bang in the middle of peak hour. Our new baby, Garmin, saved our sanity and has been worth every cent! We were quite under the pump to find our accomodation and get the hire car dropped off by 5.30pm on the other side of the city. We found our accomodation, Times Square Apartments and dumped all our luggage and groceries in the garage while Wayne took off downtown with 20 minutes to spare. I think I ended up with the raw deal, 5 suitcase, bags of odds and ends we had gathered from a week living out of the car and a trolley load of groceries we had picked up for the week. Thankfully I had 3 trusty helpers to get it all in the elevators up to the 2nd floor. By the way, Wayne arrived at the car rental with time to spare! Thanks Garmin!

Our Apartment is in the westend of Vancouver only a couple of blocks from Stanley Park and Coal Harbour. We were very happy to receive an upgrade to a "large " 2 bedroom apartment and be able to unpack all our suitcases for a full 8 days. It is so nice to have a separate bedroom, kitchen, washing machine and dryer and some space! Who would think you could get excited about having a washing machine!!

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Saturday came and we were all very happy just to relax and not go anywhere. We did go for a wander into Stanley Park and ventured into an area called the Lost Lagoon which had a wildlife information area a bit like Herdsman Lake. We all found it very interesting to find out about all the animals found in the 1000 acres of the park including coyotes and skunks. All we managed to find was a squirrel, white swan, various duck varieties and Canadian geese.

Sunday was another drizzly day so we decided we should grab a "sights" bus to see a bit more of the city without getting wet. The Big Bus took you around the city sights with a hop on and off at different landmarks and places of interest. This gave us an opportunity to check out most things and decided where we would like to spend more time. Gastown provided some good shopping and galleries of Aboriginal (North American) artefacts and art work and a photo opportunity of the steam clock.

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A trip to the Vancouver Aquarium was on the must do list to see the Beluga Whales and we weren't disappointed. What beautiful, serene creatures they are. The aquarium has harbour seals, sea lions, pacific white sided dolphins and the beluga whales all giving a short show and information session. They were all lots of fun, especially when Denver failed to recognise the clues to move and was drenched by the beluga whale's tail! There were lots of beautiful aquariums inside as well and definitely worth a return visit if we get the chance.

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We thought a trip on the False Creek water taxis would be a treat so went over to the Granville Market for a wander and a bite to eat. A very large public market with every type of ware imaginable plus the biggest crab legs ever from Alaskan crabs. They would have been about 1 metre long!!

Every morning we have woken up hoping for better weather but unfortunately it has been an unseasonal start to April with cooler than average temperatures and drizzle most days. We decided to check out what we could on the Londsdale Quay area by Sea Bus but the rain prevented us walking too far. Returning to downtown, an evening at the Imax Cinema at Canada Place to see Dolphins and Whales in 3D was a drier option.

Posted by fiveofus 00:05 Archived in Canada Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

ICEFIELDS PARKWAY

sunny -6 °C

On leaving Banff our aim was to get to the Icefields Parkway for the 2nd April. We had been advised that a walk into Johnston Canyon was a must see so after a Subway lunch we headed north again on the Bow Valley Road to the canyon.

Driving the rockies early spring, while spectacular, is also a lot quicker as there are still a lot of sights snowed in and inaccessible. This saves you time on checking out lakes and waterfalls!! Emerald lake was supposed to be a must see but we figured it wouldn't be looking too emerald coloured but rather very white so bypassed that one too.

Johnston Canyon was about 5.5km walk in and out and mostly good going apart from some sections of very slippery ice areas which the kids enjoyed sliding through on their butts. We still had beautiful sunny skies above so the light through the canyon was incredible and where it was beginning to thaw we saw amazing images of water rushing out from under the ice and snow above.

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The late afternoon was fast approaching by the time we were out the canyon so the decision about where to stay was either go onto Lake Louise again and spend the night there or get a bit more ground up the parkway. Thankfully we had picked up an accomodation brochure the previous day and had a couple of numbers we could call.

We managed to confirm some accomodation at a lodge about 30 minutes north of Lake Louise. Sounded a bit expensive but everything through here was and at least we had an extra half hour under our belt for the next day!

We found Num-Ti-Jah Lodge in the middle of nowhere- literally! Not even visible from the highway we were thankful for the flags on the road and tentatively drove down the driveway. Before we found the lodge there were some little huts by a carpark which we thought from a distance were cabins!! As we got closer we were relieved to find they were toilet blocks for people walking out to the Bow River Glacier. Phew!!

Rounding the bend the lodge appeared- just gorgeous, built in 1950, it was just like a big log cabin. We were warmly greeted by an Aussie teacher working at the front desk ( good sign) who thought we had gorgeous kids ( even better!!). The lower level of the lodge had an enormous lounge area with log fire and heaps of space (kids loved playing hide and seek here), a sitting area with tea and coffee facilities and a very nice restaurant. Upstairs our room was very authentic country with heaps of room for all of us. We all slept very soundly after our big day and Baileys nightcap!!

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The Icefield Centre was about an hours drive from Num-Ti- Jah Lodge so we didn't waste too much time getting organised in the morning. It was a rather cold morning and the first time we had found ice on the windscreen. The temperature was indicating -16 but the skies were clear and sunny again. We had heard the Icefield Parkway was very picturesque but no amount of video and photographs could do it justice. We had to eventually stop ourselves taking photos of mountains but each one looked like a better view than the last!! Mackenzie spotted the Weeping Wall where the snow melt seeps from limestone cliffs. In summer this forms a waterfall but at the moment is a fall of ice, quite spectacular.

The Icefield Centre had only opened for the season the previous day so was still in a state of disarray. Their water pipes had frozen over the winter and the centre was in a bit of a mess and with no toilet facilities. Thankfully they were able to still operate the Glacier tour.

We boarded our Icefield Explorer and headed over the road for the tour onto the Athabasca Glacier. An amazing experience to be able to walk on this glacier with blue skies above, the colours reflected on the ice were beautiful. I felt we were so fortunate to be here at this time of the year when our guide told us that during the spring and summer there were often 200 people on the glacier at one time!!

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Our aim was to get to Jasper so we continued along the picturesque parkway. Not long after leaving we rounded a bend to find about 10 long horn sheep in the middle of the road with no intention of moving. They were happily licking the moisture off the road and the kids were ecstatic to finally see some wildlife up close.

This section of road seemed to be the one for animals. Before long we had seen deer , one too close for our liking and a fox. All this activity put an end to any ideas of kids having a snooze in the back seat!

A bit further we took a much needed leg stretch stop at Sunwapta Falls, very pretty but I think everyone had more fun jumping into the nearly thigh deep snow off the picnic tables! Great fluffy snow for another snow fight and then totem building out of snow "blocks".

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Our last stop for the day was Athabasca falls which we needed to see as the water flows through here after melting from the Columbian Icefield which we had walked on earlier in the day.

Finally onto Jasper we grabbed a motel room and searched for somewhere to get a meal. Jasper seemed very dull after Banff but we found an awesome restaurant called "Evil Dave's" and had a fabulous meal with great service. Denver ate the biggest piece of lasagne I had ever seen and we all collapsed into bed with very big tummies. We have decided that Denver is going to have to write a review on the best lasagnes in Canada and the US, he certainly is going to be an expert critic!

Posted by fiveofus 22:32 Archived in Canada Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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