Every June for the past few years, my mind travels back to one of my ALL TIME favourite travel adventures…..my first ever solo trip, and not only was I solo, I was solo on the road!
I did that trip June 20th to 27th, six years ago, and even though six years have passed, I still remember that trip like it was yesterday…..why? Because it was SO special for SO many reasons!
One reason that trip was special was because, prior to that trip, I had always traveled with someone else….either with my family, or husband, or friends, or work colleagues. I had never been away completely on my own before. I was nearly 50 years old and had never traveled by myself.
Ladies, and yes, I’m addressing the ladies only here….do yourself a favour….go away….go away somewhere by yourself. It’s something I STRONGLY encourage every woman, no matter what age, to do, at least once in her life. Why? Because you will learn things about yourself, things you didn’t know you didn’t know.
I learned that I was more resourceful than I thought I was.
I learned that I love my freedom almost more than anything else.
I learned what’s important, and what isn’t.
The other reason this trip was so special was because, as a travel consultant, I am very used to planning out my clients vacations, itineraries, making their plans, etc….but this was the first time I had ever planned out my own.
Key thing to keep in mind when planning a road trip….leave “room” for “Life” to happen. What I mean is, you never know what will happen once you’re on the road….you may want to spend more, or less, time in a certain area….so leave yourself that “window” to be spontaneous.
As of publication of this post, we here in Ontario still can’t cross provincial borders due to COVID, even with our immediate neighbours to the east (Quebec) and to the west (Manitoba), but I know SOME DAY the borders will reopen and I can’t wait to head west again (next time will be in my tiny-home-on-wheels….stay tuned for that!).
In the meantime, I have my memories of the West to tide me over….and to share with you here, in the hopes that it will help you plan out your visit to beautiful British Columbia.
So let’s get right to it….5 Places To Visit Where The Motto is, “Splendor Without Diminishment“:
One – Vancouver
One reason I love Vancouver is that it’s so easy to get around, be that on foot, by bike, or public transportation (load up your Compass card and take the Skytrain; don’t bother renting a car while you’re in the city; parking is hard to find and expensive when you do).
I picked up my bike rental from Spokes, and I highly recommend them. Friendly service, great location and reasonable prices on great bike rentals: spokesbicyclerentals.com
If you’re visiting Vancouver, you have to go to Stanley Park! They have a very clearly marked pedestrian path and a very clearly marked cyclist path (if you value your life, don’t be on the wrong side!), along the Seawall, and when you’re there, you won’t even feel like you’re in a city……except for the lovely view of the skyline that you can see in the distance.
The 9 km portion around Stanley Park takes two to three hours to walk, or about one hour to cycle.
Much of the park remains forested, just as it was in the late 1800’s; the park has roughly half a million trees, some standing as tall as 76 metres and hundreds of years old!
Other than cycling, another fun way to get around is the Aquabus….it’s a water-taxi service, very efficient, friendly and affordable. I took the Aquabus to Granville Island Market….another must-visit if you’re going to be in Vancouver. One of my favourites there is Terra Breads.
I’ve never been a “city person”, and although Vancouver IS a city, it doesn’t feel like one to me. I guess that’s because every other city I’ve been to is very polluted, and Vancouver isn’t. I learned while I was there that they purposely didn’t build a highway from the airport to downtown because they want to keep it as green as possible.
Another reason Vancouver doesn’t feel like a city to me….they have nine beaches! Eight of them are by the ocean and one is lakeside; five are dog-friendly. My favourite beach there for sunset-viewing is English Bay.
Two – Vancouver Island
Speaking of transportation, I also love the BC Ferry system. It’s an efficient and affordable way to island hop, but also to get from the mainland to the other islands.
Travel tip: if you’re taking a vehicle on the ferry, you must book in advance. If you’re a foot passenger on the ferry, you do not have to book in advance.
I had booked passage on the ferry from Tsawwassen ferry terminal over to Vancouver Island as I wanted to go to Butchart Gardens AND I had a special accommodation booked on the island that you can only get to if you have a car.
First, the ferry was great! Again, efficient, affordable, and I love being on the water, especially in BC, as you never know if/when you’ll see a whale or two.
I would recommend taking one of the earlier ferries…..they’re less crowded and it gives you more time on the island.
Butchart Gardens are another must-visit if you travel to BC! A few fun-facts:
- Butchart Gardens receive over a million visitors each year
- the Gardens have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2004
- Back in the early 1900’s, Jennie Butchart wanted to create some beauty from the remains of her husband’s mined-out industrial quarry site
- The current owner and managing director is Robin-Lee Clarke, the great-granddaughter of the founding couple.
- In 1982 the Butchart Gardens was used as the inspiration for the Canadian pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World Resort in Florida
A full day can be spent exploring the grounds of Butchart Gardens….which are actually comprised of five gardens:
- the Sunken Garden (which was originally the quarry)
- the Rose Garden (used to be the family’s vegetable garden…..when I was there in June, all the roses, thousands of them–300 varieties!!, were in full bloom and you could smell them even before you got the Rose Garden…..simply beautiful!!!)
- the Japanese Garden
- the Italian Garden (which used to be tennis courts)
- and the Mediterranean Garden
Three – Free Spirit Spheres
Remember I had said that I had booked myself into special accommodations? After I left Butchart, I drove up to Qualicum Beach, and met with the owner (and builder) of Free Spirit Spheres. If you don’t know about this place, I recommend that you visit their website: freespiritspheres.com
This is easily one of the most unique places I’ve ever slept in my life!
Well first, the welcome basket I received was over-the-top! I’ve stayed in some amazing places around the world, but Tom’s wife, Rosey (Tom and Rosey being the Owners) put the welcome basket together and it included: yogurt with fresh raspberries and blueberries, cheese, granola, a banana, a muffin, a mini-bread (either carrot or pumpkin, not sure which), two home-made cookies–shortbread and oatmeal, two home-made strudel pastries, Lindt chocolates, peppermint patties, Werthers, a gallon jug of water, Mango Cider, and an orange-juice box.
The sphere I’d be sleeping in (I can see on their website) is now retired, but she was Eve. Eve smelled of cedar, was spacious enough for my needs, with a bed to the left of the entrance and a small dinette that could seat four to the right of the entrance. Everything you could need was provided: head-lamps, board games, etc.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the best sleep, because the mattress wasn’t the greatest, and the tethers that hold the sphere up kept scraping on the sphere as the wind blew during the night, but other than that, it was amazing!
There’s an outhouse close to (but not TOO close to) the tree that the sphere is in, but there’s also another building not far from the sphere which houses a proper toilet, shower, plush towels, even a hair dryer. It’s the most civilized “tree-house” experience I’ve ever had! Don’t be surprised if you see deer wandering the grounds.
Have you ever slept in a tree? If so, please tell me about it in the Comments section, I’d love to hear about your experience.
My experience was unforgettable. So serene!!
Four – Wells Gray Provincial Park
Next morning, I drove to the Departure Bay ferry terminal. I got there early, so I found a spot to sit and enjoy the 18C weather, ate my banana, was scrolling through the photos I had taken the previous day….and then I caught the sound of a musician playing, busking I suppose.
Remember how I said, that you’ll learn about yourself when you do a solo road trip? One of those learning moments was brought about thanks to this musician’s song. His name is Mike Alviano and the song he was singing made me cry, right there, in public, openly and unashamedly. I had never done that before in my life!
I don’t know if Mike’s still performing, but I bought three of his CD’s while I was there in Departure Bay, so every time I hear this song, I’m taken back to that moment:
The ferry back to the mainland docked at Horseshoe Bay and from there I drove to Sun Peaks (took about five hours or so to drive). Even though I was on vacation, I wanted to do some site inspections at Sun Peaks, including Nancy Greene’s Cahility Lodge, Hearthstone Lodge and Sun Peaks Grand.
From Sun Peaks, I drove up to Wells Gray Provincial Park, aka as The Land of the Waterfalls (there are 41 named waterfalls in the park, and counting).
My favourite waterfall there was Helmcken, which is 141 m/463 feet tall, as compared to Horseshoe Falls (Niagara) which is only about 57 m/187 feet high. I also visited Spahat Waterfalls (75 m/246 feet) and Dawson Falls (only 18 metres/59 feet high, but it’s very wide, at about 107 metres/351 feet).
Five – Kicking Horse
My next destination required me to drive the Coquihalla, or Coq, which is the highway featured on Discovery Channels’ “Highway Thru Hell”. Let me tell you….even in summer, this is a helluva road to drive and I developed a whole new level of respect for long-haul drivers!!
Driving solo through the Rockies was more challenging than I expected it to be. You have to keep watch of the ever-changing speed limits, all sorts of wild life, falling rocks, road conditions (it can be clear one minute and then pouring raining the next), you have to watch out for other drivers (ie, the long-haul drivers who go chug-chug-chugging UP the mountains and then go barreling down the other side!), warning signs, and all this while driving in what feels like a movie set, the views just go on for days and are all breath-taking!!!
The drive took me about eight hours and was the most magnificent I’ve ever had the pleasure to drive. The towering, majestic mountains, the greener than green valleys, the aquamarine lakes and rivers….just spell-binding!
My destination was Kicking Horse Mountain Resort as I had a lunch reservation at Canada’s highest elevated restaurant, Eagle’s Eye. Before having lunch though, I first took the gondola up to visit Boo, in the Grizzly Bear Refuge, which is the largest enclosed and protected grizzly bear habitat in the world. Within this natural mountainside habitat (20 acres) Boo hunts, plays, forages, and explores just like his wild cousins.
Boo was just a young, orphaned cub when he was brought to the refuge, but wow he was huge when I saw him!
Some info, taken from the Refuge’s website:
“Boo was born in the wild, not in captivity. Tragically, his mother was shot and killed by a poacher in June 2002, leaving Boo and his brother, Cari, orphaned and defenseless at just five months of age. The cubs might have been euthanized, but instead were given a second lease on life and a new home at the Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge.
Cari and Boo were named for British Columbia’s Cariboo Mountains where they were born. The Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge was built specifically for the orphaned cubs. Observing their behavior and life skill development has provided a unique opportunity for grizzly bear research. Observations about foraging, play, sleep, social skills, and many other activities are recorded daily. The cubs’ development was the subject of one researcher’s Master’s thesis.
Among other things, the refuge permits a rare in-depth analysis of grizzly bear hibernation. A log den was constructed within the refuge for the cubs to use in the winter. This custom-built den includes a motion-activated camera in the roof that allows continuous monitoring of activity inside. As a result, we now know that grizzly bears engage in limited activity during the winter, unlike true hibernators. For that reason we now use the more accurate term winter dormancy rather than hibernation when referring to a bear’s winter slumber.
Sadly, Cari never awoke from his first winter dormancy and passed away within the den. The provincial veterinary laboratory performed a necropsy and discovered that Cari had died from a spontaneous twist of his intestines.
Boo demonstrated great resilience by overcoming the loss of both his mother and brother. Since Cari’s death, Boo has lived alone at the refuge. Male grizzly bears are very solitary animals, however, so being alone is a natural condition for him. Nevertheless, Boo sometimes gets the urge to meet lady grizzlies during mating season. It was national news when Boo escaped from the refuge in June 2006 for this reason, before eventually returning voluntarily.
By observing Boo over the last 10 years, we have concluded that an orphaned grizzly cub can learn essential life skills on its own, without a mother bear’s guidance, provided the cub has suitable habitat, space, and opportunity like that provided by the refuge.
Boo will live out his lifetime at the Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge. He serves a vital role that we hope will benefit future orphaned grizzly bear cubs. We continue to learn from Boo, while at the same time allowing him to live the best captive life possible. He is an inspiration for everyone who comes to see him and he is an outstanding ambassador for this magnificent species.”
Lunch at Eagle’s Eye was on another level! Literally! The restaurant is located at an impressive 2,347 meters/7,710 feet above sea level and provides jaw-dropping views of five national parks while you enjoy a great meal and maybe some beverages too. The 360-views show off more than 1,000 often snow-capped peaks zigzagging along the horizon in the Purcell, Selkirk, and Rocky Mountains.
Best part of my lunch, besides the jaw-dropping views, was the lemon tart I had for dessert…..one of the best things I’ve ever eaten!
As a side-note, I had rented a little budget-friendly Nissan Versa. I did A LOT of driving during that week (over 1,900 km), had to gas up only four times, and it cost me a total of $145 for the entire week!!! Great little car!!! I gave her a hug when I dropped her off at the Avis depot at Calgary airport.
If you love nature, and natural beauty, be sure to put British Columbia on your must-experience list.
The province has fantastic locally-grown and locally-sourced food, wineries, breweries, orchards, vineyards, so if you’re a foodie, you really should visit BC.
For soft-adventure and active holidays, also a great place to visit!
Photos included here don’t do justice to all that I saw, you really do need to see it for yourself.
Speaking of photos, all photos are my own; if you would like to share them, please ask me for permission. If you’d like to purchase a print of any of my photos, likewise, just drop me a note and we can discuss further.
Thanks very much for giving me fiveish minutes of your day today! I hope this has been helpful to you and made your vacation planning to British Columbia easier! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via email, or drop a comment below.
FANTASTIC – as always. We live in PARADISE over here on vancouver Island. But i’m afraid of heights. Can’t sleep in a sphere suspended from trees. Everything else! you know it.
Awww thanks Phyllis! You DO live in Paradise! 100% P.S. the sphere isn’t up high in the tree 😁
Another great blog Elizabeth.
Beautiful pictures of a beautiful Province.
I did the same trip a year after you, and it sure was trip of my life time.
I hope to do it again soon.