We arrive in Victoria a little weary but are soon perked up as we check in to the beautiful Fairmont Empress right on the waterfront. This magnificent hotel dates back to 1908 and, like many of these hotels, resembles an old chateau. The place is buzzing because the Victoria Symphony Orchestra is performing tonight on a large stage on a pontoon right out in front and thousands of people are picnicking on the lawn here and are gathered right around the area. We walk along the front to find a place to sit for a while and listen to the music and to have dinner. On the way back to the hotel the bagpipes are playing and somehow we managed to get ourselves into the throng following them so we march back to the hotel to the tune of “Scotland the Brave”. We have a couple of rest days now to recover and do the housekeeping before movin on.
This morning’s visit is to the beautiful Butchart Gardens here in Victoria covering 53 hectares and dating back 100 years. There is a sunken garden, a rose garden, Japanese garden, Star Pond, Italian garden, Piazza and Mediterranean garden and every single one of these is truly a place of great beauty, colour and tranquility. Seventy Gardeners tend the gardens and many of them are out today dead heading, weeding, lawn mowing, trimming etc. One of them told us that there are 26 greenhouses with plants which will go into the gardens at some stage and that in November they will be planting 300,000 bulbs. When annuals are removed they are composted to go back into the gardens. There are stunning fountains, sculptures and ponds and we loved it all.
Tonight’s included excursion is Chinatown Lantern walk and dinner so off we set all wrapped up warm because the wind is chilly. After a rather large and tasty dinner at a small Chinese restaurant, our guide presents us with a bamboo pole with a lantern and off we set to wander down the street and into Fan Tan alley and another narrow alleyway dating back to the early 1900’s. Well – didn’t realise we would be walking around with a lantern at the end of a pole!!
We departed Victoria on the ferry passing many small islands and arriving at the terminal in Twassassen and then driving towards the centre of Vancouver seeing bald eagles, blue herons and very large seagulls on the way. We also passed crops of blueberries and cranberries. The visit to Granville Island, which is a heritage site, was pleasant with its large Marina and markets and was a hive of activity with the street entertainers playing away. Here the buskers have to audition to get a permit in order to entertain on the streets. This was followed by a visit to Stanley Park to look back at the nice landscape of downtown Vancouver.
Now the bathrooms – well actually, as you will have noticed, there haven’t been any major problems of late. Yay! However, today on the ferry I did have a tiny wee problem. I walked into the Men’s by mistake and banged into an Indian man who, with a look of surprise, said “Maaaam – wrong side, wrong side Maaaam – go to other end”. Well, for heavens sakes – why can’t the Canadians make those Male/Female graphic images clearer!!!
Now there is a little blurring of the lines of responsibility here on tour. I am in charge of the P’s, the boss is in charge of the B’s. We have that sorted. However, I had a prior arrangement, which was agreed upon, and that was that if I had the responsibility of navigating us through new towns I would need to bring the Tom Tom – I didn’t. That means the apprentice is in charge of navigating but over the past two days he has tried to hand the maps over to me. “Fine – OK – won’t argue” I said but after he thought about it for 5 seconds he decided he would need danger money if I was navigating so he has agreed to take full responsibility for map reading. Whew! I can put the Stress Remedy back into my bag!
We departed Vancouver this morning and drove the picturesque Sea to Sky highway to get to Whistler visiting Shannon Falls (no kidding) and passing the tall rainforest here of varying types of pines, cedar, red alders and broadleaf oak trees on the way. We passed Stawamus Chief – a huge granite mountain with forest and trees with its gondola rising up to the top of the valley. This is the second highest granite rock in the world after the Rock of Gibraltar. By the way – petrol here in Canada is around 112c which is about $NZ1.30 per litre – why do we pay so much in NZ?
An inclusion in our tour was a Freechoice dinner and we chose the Fairmont Whistler Golf Club. We went with one other couple and on arrival we were each given a golf cart for a “wildlife” drive so our golf cart set off with a lady from the Club driving out in front to guide us through part of the course to look for black bears or elk. Well, we saw none but we did see absolutely magnificent scenery around the 8 holes of the course we drove around with Vern at the wheel – have to admit that at times it felt like we were in the dodgem cars at the fairground!! Honestly, he hasn’t driven for 7 weeks and as soon as he gets his hands on the wheel the power goes to his head!! This is a 6630 metre par 72 course with 400 feet of elevation and magnificent valley and mountain views. It has a signature 212 yard par 3 8th hole and the 18th finishes in front of the lovely casual clubhouse where we had a very enjoyable dinner and then a walk back to the hotel on a mild night here in Whistler.
We depart Whistler for Sun Peaks passing crops of potatoes and large areas of pumice in this farm bowl surrounded by mountains. Suddenly there is a black bear on a side road – possibly eating the plentiful berries in the early morning sunshine. We fleetingly see another brown bear through the trees and are pretty glad we flagged the early-morning walk!! We pass First Nations reserves which are easily identifiable because of the many car wrecks on all the properties. Up we climb on this windy road with lovely views of glacial rivers and lakes, mountain glaciers and Christmas-tree forests. We see salmon-spawning channels and green pastures as we climb and descend all day through these enormous mountains. Suddenly in this mountainous wilderness we come upon a lake with a large camping ground and off to the left cliffs of white rock with fir trees clinging by their toes to the sheer surface. We join the Trans Canada Highway and see crops of Ginseng (for alternative medicine) while listening to the music of Joanne Shannondoah – can you belieeeeeve it? Wasn’t me! Incidentally, the Trans Canada Highway is 8000 km long and runs from Newfoundland to Victoria.
We arrive at the small intimate ski village of Sun Peaks for the night and the first thing we do here is take the long gondola ride to the top of the mountain saying “hello” to a little deer sitting quietly right under the chairlift. The mountain is a hive of activity with all the mountain bikers enjoying some fast rides down the mountain. It seems a lot of the ski fields here have developed these mountain bike trails with various grades, just as they grade the ski runs, and this means that the mountain is being enjoyed both summer and winter.
Today we have seen extremely long goods trains – trains that stretch out approximately 1.5 km in length and are pulled sometimes by two engines, sometimes with another engine in the middle of the long load and another at the end. The shipping containers are stacked 2-high and the train seems to go on forever. We pass more glaciers on the mountains, lots of snowy peaks and we drive through several avalanche snow sheds built to protect the road from being blocked by an avalanche and keep the traffic flowing. So we make our way to beautiful Banff where we holidayed in January 1991 with the family in winter in the freeeeeeezing temperatures and were confronted by elk on the streets.