Hiking and road tripping around Whistler

So I recently spent a couple of days visiting whistler staying in the centre of town for a night. Once again with my partner in crime Alecia, we drove from just outside of Vancouver which takes about 2 hours. So firstly if you’re in Vancouver make time to do this! Having been through the Rockies I saw scenery just as beautiful and Whistler itself is a great little town.

So on the way to Whistler I’d been told about a hike called ‘the chief’ now there are three peaks you can do and we did the first, this still took you nearly a kilometre in elevation with a round trip of 3.5 hours so wasn’t just a walk in the park. When you get to the top the path stops and you have to use ladders and chains to climb what is basically a big rock at the top. This made me ever so slightly nervous especially when the chains stopped… But once you’re up there the views as you can see above are absolutely breathtaking!!! You can see pretty much all around you from different sides of the peak and the views here were probably the best I’ve had in Canada. Also it’s the perfect place to strike a great ‘rock pose’ (as in Dwayne Johnson) and be the only man hiking in a shirt.

After a lunch of Oreo ice cream sandwiches (don’t judge me) we drove on to Whistler. Now whistler town is where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held so we got a super touristy picture as you can see above. We also grabbed some food in one of the many bars/restaurants. We were staying really centrally on Main Street so just a stones throw away from where everything was happening which was great. The town has a real buzz about it as one of those places that although not huge seems like there’s always something going on. Also so many Aussies and Kiwis everywhere, it’s more rare to find a Canadian working in one of the stores or restaurants than an Aussie or Kiwi.

On our second day after a great breakfast (it may have been a raspberry cheesecake brownie continuing the health trend…) and finding a bar to watch England do what they do and underperform terribly in a major tournament, we headed past whistler to Joffre Lake (bottom picture). Now once again the drive here was amazing!!!! Also the lake itself absolutely stunning and probably comparable if not better than Lake Louise (probably due to better weather and the fact that we were totally alone there as opposed to lake Louise where there were hundreds of people…).

So to finish, after a shout out to ‘Beatrice’ the beetle above, who was a trooper taking us all around the mountains, this couple of days was definitely a highlight of my trip so far and my advice to anyone if you stop by Vancouver, go to Whistler!!!! So next up for me is Canada day tomorrow, so time to bring my eh game (may or may not have stolen this from a tshirt)

A few days on Vancouver Island

So I’m now back staying just outside of Vancouver in Canada’s ‘Surrey’ (small world I know, there’s also a Guildford and Richmond here…) courtesy of the lovely Mantei family who have been kind enough to let me stay in their home. At this point I just need to say I’ve truly been blown away at how open and good hearted the people are that I have met here, and I’m so lucky to have been able to get the taste of Canadian life that I have and also go to places the tourists don’t! So earlier this week I spent a few days on Vancouver Island with Alecia (in the picture below who I met in Vancouver and who’s family I’m staying with) and we got the ferry over to the island travelling from Nanaimo down to Victoria.

For anybody who doesn’t know about Vancouver Island, it’s just under two hours on the ferry West of Vancouver, it’s absolutely huge, 31,000 km squared, and it’s biggest city Victoria, is actually the capital of British Columbia (not Vancouver) and houses the British Columbia Parliament building you can see below. Also fun fact, the survival series ‘Alone’ where contestants compete to survive solo as long as possible in the wilderness is actually filmed in the remote north of Vancouver island.

So in my time here we explored some of the coast and the city of Victoria a few highlights pictured above. If you’re thinking of visiting definitely check out the parliament building at night, I tried a couple more Canadian foods, maple biscuits (basically custard creams with maple filling but bigger and more delicious!) and salt water taffy, which was kind of gross…

I also checked out this cool little area called fisherman’s wharf about 15mins walk from central downtown (or a little boat if less strapped for cash than myself) with lots of cute houseboats and little stores and food outlets all floating on the water. I’ll be off to whistler doing a couple of hikes for a couple of days Sunday, and then hopefully get to cross the border to see Seattle as well as going camping in the rest of my time here. Oh and Canada day is on the 1st July so that should be awesome and hopefully I can finally see a Mountie!!

Road tripping the Rockies

So for the last week or so I’ve been road tripping trough the Rockies with Sam and Bev, who left yesterday. Starting from the beginning we picked up the most manly unlike my actual car car I’ve ever driven, from Vancouver. Two things I hadn’t given much thought to, firstly I haven’t driven on the other side of the road before and I’ve never driven an automatic. So my usual road ragey self (only briefly mind) was replaced by a very nervous me singing songs to myself to remind me to drive on the right… And for anyone who has been in the car with me you’ll know how unusual a sedate driving me is!

Having not planned too far ahead most of this trip was booked a day or two in advance with us choosing to stay in air BnB’s along the way. In hindsight I’m so glad we did it that way because not only was it cheaper, but we stayed in some beautiful places completely off the tourist track and really got to see the real Canada. Our first stop was a 6 hour drive from Vancouver in a little place called Killiney Beach in between Vernon and Kelowna. We stayed at a lovely lady called Martina’s house, and had the whole basement level including undercover hot tub! This was definitely an awesome addition, especially after we decided to swim in the lake in the rain and cold… 

Following on from a couple of nights in Killiney Beach we had originally planned to stay in Banff National Park. Now for anyone who has travelled through the Rockies everyone says Banff is the place to be and stay. Once again booking the night before we soon realised Banff town is very expensive and also you pay an extra fee for staying in the park. So we looked at some other places just outside of the national park and by more luck that judgement found another beautiful place in a town called Invermere. This is definitely not on the tourist route but we had the whole house to ourselves with the views from the balcony you can see pictured. If you travelled through the normal Rockies route you wouldn’t pass through here but the valley the town was located in is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.

We never met the hosts Cori and Scott but the kindness and trust in allowing people they’d never met to stay in their home just blew my mind. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t that great but we still managed to have a great time here (helped by a lot of Tim Horton’s). On highlight was the radium hot springs pictured above, which are basically a big pool that is as hot as a bath but really relaxing and great for a hangover. We also found a couple of locals to watch the football in, in one of which Sam proceeded to absolutely school the resident unbeaten pool player of the town earning a new respect amongst Invermerians. We also saw the Canadian lake Windermere, which holds the record for the longest skating track in the world. Finally we saw so many golf courses it starts to get silly, who knew that Canadians seem to love golf as much as Tim Horton’s.

So after a lovely few nights here we headed to our final stop Calgary. As we hadn’t stayed in Banff we decided to drop in on our drive through so saw Lake Louise, Morraine Lake and Banff town. Now this may seem controversial but having been spoilt rotten with beautiful scenery that was away from the main tourist routes, visiting Lake Louise was a big change. There are so many people and cars (so my road rage emerged trying to park) and although yes it is stunning it is a bit of a shame that there are so many tourists about. (He says as a tourist…). So this was when we left the Rockies to go to Calgary. I’ve put a bunch of pictures up of some of the amazing scenery and things we saw along the way, which unfortunately didn’t include seeing bears or any moose much to Sam’s disappointment. We did however see a very cute ground squirrel (pictured) who lived under a rock and some mountain sheep.

So after another long driving day we arrived in Calgary in our very swanky condo. We had a wander through down town and 17th avenue which is another bar hotspot sampling various Canadian brews along the way. So if anyone hasn’t been to Calgary firstly it’s pretty, secondly it’s big, I was not expecting high rises and the city to be as big as it was. Justin Bieber even played about 100m from our flat one night, so we got to see lots of ‘Beliebers’ roaming the streets. As we hadn’t seen certain wildlife on our road trip we went to Calgary Zoo, highlights include the Cougars engaging in some x-rated activity, which although sounds kind of creepy was actually hilarious, also seeing a 1 month old gorilla with its mother. Fun fact of the day from Sam was that giraffes can’t make noise apparently.

The whole trip through the Rockies seems to have flown by. Firstly due to the company, it was so nice having Sam and Bev join me. Secondly we were so busy trying to get around and see everything, the Rockies and so big and beautiful you could spend a long time seeing everything. If I were to go back I would love to find somewhere close to water in the Rockies and spend a week biking, hiking, kayaking and immersing myself in the incredible landscape. So next for me after a final night in Calgary, is a 16 hour coach trip back to Vancouver… My plans aren’t set in stone for the next week or two but are likely to include Vancouver Island, Whistler, and staying in some of the beautiful little towns and suburbs around Vancouver. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a fan of the place…

Having a ‘whale’ of a time

(I would say excuse the pun but I’m proud of it). So I haven’t posted for a few days as I’ve been out and about seeing even more of the stunning places this city has to offer, and when I say ‘city’ I mean Vancouver and all the districts, parks, mountains etc that are an extremely reasonable public transport away. Scenery wise I still can’t get over how beautiful this place is, every day there’s something new to see and somewhere new to go it really blows my mind. And even more than this I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some truly amazing Vancouverites, without whom I wouldn’t have seen and experienced half the things that have made my trip here so special (and if you’re reading this you know who you are).

Regarding Vancouver there’s not too much more to say or adjectives to use (I mean with all the ‘great’s and ‘incredible’s I’m struggling already) without boring you all to death, so above I’ve put some pretty pictures from the last few days. Including the first one which is my first play around with my waterproof camera.

So yesterday Sam and Bev arrived! (Sorry for the photo Sam, Sam was pretty unaware of my walking selfie so has an extremely determined look on his face). Really lovely to see some friendly faces from across the pond. We wasted no time and went whale watching today (their first full day after landing). The trip was about six hours by jet engine powered boat, and we saw a bunch of seals, loads of bald eagles(as in about 15 in the same area…) and then obviously a school of whales. Now here is where I confess that my nature photography skills are not up to scratch again so the best snaps are below, also these whales are completely wild so we were merely observers, we had to keep our distance and there were no tricks or anything to get them to ‘look more interesting’. It was however really awe inspiring to see them together in their natural habitat, especially the biggest male of the group ‘big mike’ (in hindsight maybe we heard the name wrong but we liked big mike so stuck with it)

So tomorrow we pick up our car and head east to the mountains. I say ‘the mountains’ as we still haven’t yet confirmed our route… However essentially there will be a lot of time spent in Banff before finishing in Calgary in roughly a weeks time.

Grouse Mountain

Climb up a mountain they said, it will be fun they said… So yesterday I went to Grouse Mountain, Grouse Mountain is just north of Vancouver about half an hour by car. As I was car-less a sea bus which is the boat you can see above (I thought the directions firstly were ‘C’ bus so got very confused as all the buses here start with the letter C and have a number at the end…) and normal bus later I arrived at the bottom. 

Now you have two choices, pay $40 and take the gondola up and down that you can see above, or hike up and pay $10 dollars for the gondola down. Why get a gondola when you can walk eh. 

So they call this hike the ‘Grouse Grind’ and it’s 2.9km long, an elevation of 853metres, and close to 3000 steps. They also call it ‘natures stairmaster’. That all sounded fine to me, until about 20 exhausting minutes in and too many steps to count I was only a quarter of the way up. Now for someone who used to occasionally get the lift up three stories at work because three stories is a fair amount of stories. Climbing up an altitude nearly 3 times as high as the Shard definitely started to take its toll as you can see as this hike is basically a shed load of stairs a lot of which are rocks. They don’t allow people to do the trail down for safety reasons. Also to add to this I forgot bug spray so felt like a human bird feeder for mosquitos. 

They have a sign at the bottom that other than basically saying ‘if you die it’s not our fault’ says ‘legs you got this’. Now this sign would have been useful motivation towards the top when your legs are not in a good way but at the bottom kind of defeats the point. Passing a friendly chap who looked like he was about to have a heart attack on the way up I felt his ‘tomorrow is definitely going to be a day of rest’ comment summed it up perfectly.

Eventually I got up after being passed by many many people, and one guy in his seventies who put me completely to shame. The views were incredible, and the feeling when you make it to the top above the tree line and see how high you you’ve hiked is pretty awesome. Also there are bears…

These guys are called Grinder and Cooler and they live in the sanctuary/enclosure at the top of the mountain. Seeing Grizzlies from literally metres away was definitely the highlight of my day and in real life they are incredible creatures. They’re a lot bigger than I thought and also a lot more entertaining, they were rolling around, swimming, annoying each other, having a stroll and a scratch. Anyway compared to most animals they were surprisingly active and until you see their teeth and claws look super friendly and cuddly.

Vancouver first impressions

So what to say on initial impressions of Vancouver. Firstly this city is BEAUTIFUL, and I’ve barely even scratched the surface with so much more to do and see. I had a little stroll the afternoon I arrived and chilled out on the beach with stunning snow capped mountains in the background, there’s not many places where you can do that. Dipped my feet in the Pacific for the first time ever, exciting stuff. Went for a run yesterday and as well as my body giving me some brutal feedback on my (lack of) fitness, I also got my first taste of a tiny bit of Stanley Park called Lost Lagoon. Stanley Park apart from being full of care free black squirrels and Canada geese, was actually voted the worlds number one park by tripadvisor in 2013. It lies between Downtown and West Vancouver (which is slightly confusingly actually just north of downtown) and has an aquarium, a beach, another lake called beaver lake (if I don’t see any beavers there I will be dissapointed) and trails that run through and around it.

Yesterday a group of us from the hostel went on a free hostel trip through west Vancouver to a place called Lighthouse Park where we ended up hiking around various viewpoints for a couple of hours. Unfortunately my nature photography skills are to be desired so there aren’t any pictures of these but we saw an eagle, an otter and some dolphins, and obviously the lighthouse too. The fact that we saw these a $2.75 bus ride from Vancouver made me a very happy chappy.

So back to my first night as a solo traveller. For anyone who hasn’t been solo travelling or is worried to, if my first couple of nights and days are anything to go by you’ll meet loads of people really easily and everyone is super friendly! So I went down to the bar at 6, sat there with my $4 beer and started nattering away to whichever unfortunate person decided to perch next to me. The friendly barman kept offering to refill my drink and as it would have been rude not to, a ‘couple’ later I ended up joining a table of other travellers from all over the place and trying Canadian ‘sangria’. Having recently had sangria in a tapas joint back in the UK I was slightly surprised when this one tasted and looked pretty much exactly like pink berry squash. Then another friendly Canadian chap asked if we wanted to get involved in the beer pong tournament, once again would have been rude not to. So I found a beer pong partner, and feeling pretty confident in my abilities then proceeded to get zero shots in. We were swiftly eliminated by what can only be described as the most seasoned beer pong assassins you’re ever likely to meet… For any of you in the know on beer pong we ended up having to drink three cups on their first turn. Life lesson, if someone works at a hostel with weekly beer pong tournaments don’t challenge them to a game.

Finally, see the picture above? Look closely on the left and you’ll see it says police. The badass hunk of metal pictured above that the police of Vancouver get to drive is a Dodge Charger. 

So that’s me over and out for this post (the picture above is lost lagoon by the way), I’m still getting used to the different time zone (it’s actually just past 6am while I’m writing this) and today I’m planning on hiking up Grouse Mountain, because who takes gondolas when they can hike 2.9 kilometres up nearly 3000 stairs…