Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada

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A night out in London

We can’t seem to stay away from Canada can we? Looking at the NBA game being played at the O2 made us wonder how much it would be to fly to Toronto to watch the Raptors play. That’s when we hit ‘mission creep’. One basketball game turns into ‘wonder if we could get hockey tickets too?’……. Some internet play ends up with flights being booked, hotel being booked, tickets bought for Toronto Raptors AND Toronto Maple Leafs on consecutive nights and suddenly going to watch a single basketball game has turned into a week in Toronto next March.

It was never going to just stop there really. The hotel seemed a tad expensive so I decided that we should look at AirBnB and we found a lovely new waterfront apartment a couple of blocks from the Air Canada Centre for less that half the price of the hotel we’d booked. Hotel booking gets cancelled and apartment is ours for the week.

The week that we’re in Toronto is a good week for hockey and basketball so we decided that we should make hay while the sun shines and bought tickets for two more games. So what started as one game in London (England) has ended up with a week in Toronto and tickets for two hockey games and two basketball games. Now THAT’S how you organise a night out in London.

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Sat having a cup of tea in the kitchen. Bags are packed, weighed and double checked in case we missed anything (we’ll no doubt remember something when we’re in Canada). The car collects us to take us the airport in one hour and I’m still wondering if he really understood that we have two suitcases AND a wheelchair to get into the car. I guess we’ll find out in one hour.

I have enough electronic gadgets to qualify for a walking Dixons Store, in fact I may open a pop up shop inside Terminal 5. All I hope is that I have packed all the chargers.

Do we really need all this stuff? Really? Of course we do. There’s always the chance that we might say “If only we’d brought XYZ with us. Damn”. Not catching me out like that nosireebob.

Next stop, Heathrow Terminal 5

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Let’s go further west

After a couple of nights of relaxation and probable drunkenness, we must leave Brentwood Bay and head west towards Ucluelet. According to Google Maps it’s a decent drive (as mentioned in the last post) but it looks a nice drive too. The more I think of it, the more I think we’ll use the Mill Bay ferry and then head north up through Duncan, Chemainus and Nanaimo, all the way to Qualicum Beach before heading west. As I understand it, the road gets progressively quieter as we head west past Alberni which suits me perfectly. I’m hoping for deserted roads and a peaceful, enjoyable time and loads of traffic doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

A welcoming place

Eventually we’ll get to Ucluelet and we’re booked into the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort which I found online whilst looking at probably every single hotel on the island. It has a fantastic location, right on the oceanfront (the clue is in the name) and we have booked a room with precisely that view.

Viewed from the air (borrowed from the website)

As viewed from the ocean

If you take a peek at the website you’ll see exactly why I booked this place. The food looks good, the location speaks for itself and the rooms look great too. Of course we haven’t travelled over here just to stay in this lovely hotel, oh no. We’ve come over to the West Coast to see whales.

One morning we intend to drive up to Tofino and go and see some whales. I haven’t booked this yet. I’ve tried, but after sending two emails to West Coast Aquatic Safaris via their website, I still haven’t got a reply. I’ll keep trying as they really do look like the best for our purposes (not porpoises). They have an enclosed boat and are disabled friendly so the boat is easily accessible. We’re desperately hoping that we’ll get to see breaching Humpback whales but I’ll take what I can get. We’ve been lucky enough to see Sperm Whales in New Zealand, and Humpbacks and Orca on our last visit to BC but we’re greedy and want more.

Once we’ve sated our appetite for cetaceans (look it up) we’ll be off up North. North of the Island anyway, as that’s where the ferry leaves from. This is becoming the holiday of ferries but this will be the last one, on this trip anyway. Before we catch the ferry however we have to drive a long way. This will be the longest drive of the holiday and will take us all day. We have to retrace our steps back to the east coast of the Island then drive as far as the road allows (almost) to Port Hardy, but more of that next time.

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Flights and stuff

Do you remember me saying that we’ll fly Air Canada again? You do? Oh. Well we’re flying with British Airways instead. Who said only women can change their minds? The real reason is to do with the fact that we’ll I’ll be driving as soon as we get there and so we thought it might be quite nice to travel in premium economy. That way we get a bit more room to stretch out and maybe get a bit of sleep. It also means that we’ll have nobody sharing the row near the window with us and so we won’t have to keep getting up and down all the time. Air Canada sadly don’t do premium economy, just economy and business class (way out of our price bracket) so we looked to British Airways instead. We get an increase in baggage allowance (2 x 23kg bags each instead of 1 each) and bigger seats with more leg room. Of course I realised that you can’t really go there with an increase in baggage allowance and come back with a smaller allowance so we’re going premium economy both ways. My only gripe is that once you pay a premium to get these ‘extras’ you are then asked to pay more to reserve your seat if you want a particular row. I seem to remember being able to do this free of charge with Air Canada when flying economy so it’s a bit rubbish having to pay £32 per seat per flight to do the same don’t you think? We complain about Ryanair hiding costs and ridiculing them when they say ‘you don’t have to pay if you don’t want, We’re not forcing you’ and then see BA doing the same thing. Anyway, the flights are sorted. We’re really going.

I then had a splurge on booking hotels, starting with the first place we’re staying, which is the Brentwood Bay Resort and Spa.

The view from our balcony

We stayed there previously when we did our West Coast trip in 2008 and Amanda in particular loved it. It’s in a great location right on the waterfront and has excellent food (and very good beer I seem to remember). I know that Amanda will be enjoying the spa as she loved it the last time we stayed. On that earlier trip it was our last but one stop but on this it will be our first stop. A chance to get over any jet lag and get ready for the big drive ahead. Of course we have to get there first and that should be interesting in itself.

Apart from a little bit of driving in Menorca quite a few years back, I’ve never driven on the wrong side of the road. Not even unintentionally. I’m not nervous yet, it’s quite a long way off, but I think I will be by the time I have to do it. Before you say anything, I know it’s probably easier than I think and I’m worrying over nothing but there you go. Fear of the unknown. After landing in Vancouver we have to collect the car and drive straight to the ferry terminal, get on the ferry and drive to the hotel once we get to the island. It’s not far actually, only about an hour and a quarter total driving with the ferry ride in between so it’ll be fine…won’t it?

Right by the side of the hotel is another (tiny) ferry which bills itself as Vancouver Island’s most beautiful shortcut. I haven’t decided whether we’ll take it yet but it cuts about 20 mins off the driving time to Ucluelet and it does look very pretty indeed.

Vancouver Island’s most beautiful shortcut.

The quicker way, no doubt

After that delightful rest we have a big drive to the west coast to look forward to. I checked on Google Maps and it reckons about 5 hours 16 mins but as we’re travelling on roads we’ve not seen before and going through places I KNOW I’ll want to stop and take photos of, I think it’s a full day. I admit, I’m looking forward to this. I’ll tell you more about it next time.

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There’s nothing quite like booking early

To cut a short story long, I decided to change the holiday a tiny bit and fly in and out of Vancouver rather than into Victoria and out of Vancouver. The reason is to do with the car hire and me being me. I dislike surprises. Not ‘nice’ surprises like ‘I’ve bought you a new iMac for Christmas’ or ‘We’re delighted to inform you that you’ve won the EuroMillions Lottery’, no not those surprises. The ones I don’t like are, ‘I’d like to hire a car please’..’Sorry Sir, sold out, you should really have booked earlier’. Those, I particularly dislike.


We wanted a 4×4, or SUV, Chelsea tractor, call it what you will, mainly because it’s easier for Amanda to get in and out of and gives us room in the boot for the wheelchair and most importantly I wanted a bit of four wheel drive grip to tackle ‘The Hill‘. Before anyone says you don’t need a 4×4 to go up a hill, I know this but I want it so there.


Originally I started looking at car hire companies to get quotes, just so we had an idea of costs that seem to spiral all the time when I start looking at holidays*. The first problem seemed to be that I was looking too far in the future which is fair enough. To combat this I looked a month earlier so I could compare like for like between companies. Yay, that’s fine. Oh, actually it’s not so fine. Lets look at Budget car hire for example. I wanted to hire a car for 14 days, collecting in Victoria Airport and delivering back to Vancouver Airport. No can do mate. All sold out on those dates. SOLD OUT. A YEAR IN ADVANCE. Obviously this can’t be correct so I’ll contact them and ask for a quote. Ah, not so fast chum. The Victoria branch doesn’t seem to have it’s own email address, just a phone number. Hmmm 8 hours time difference…I’d rather email, that way I get things in writing that I can file away like a squirrel with his nuts. The email system they have seems to only want you to contact them about specific problems and any quotes need to be directed at the branch. Ok lets forget Budget. Then we changed the plans so I checked again. Collect in Vancouver, deliver back to Vancouver….. yes, can do you lucky person. Waitasecondtherepartner…..Budget seem to be almost three times the price of Avis AND the Avis price includes Sat Nav (rather than buy Canadian maps and take my own) AND includes an additional driver. There may well be a reason for the price difference. Maybe they heard I’ve never driven on the wrong side of the road before and are nervous. Well let me tell you, you’re not as nervous as me (but I’m sure it’ll be fine). Maybe the excess on the LDW is less that on Avis, which is £300(ish) but even if it was zero and I had a bump, Avis would STILL be cheaper. The website isn’t very transparent so I’m afraid Budget loses the business and Avis gets it.


A nice Jeep Grand Cherokee (or equivalent) will be collected from Vancouver Airport and driven to Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal next August, and it’ll come from Avis.


*See previous trips for further details

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Getting there

We had two options on choosing how to fly to Victoria

  1. Fly to a large(ish) hub and fly a reasonable sized plane to Victoria.
  2. Fly to Vancouver and catch a small turbo-prop across to the island.

I have to say from my point of view the second is more preferable. The overall travel time is much less and the journey in the smaller aircraft is only short. However it took quite a lot of persuasion to convince Amanda of the benefits. I did think at one point we were going to go via San Francisco or Toronto bit of which had relatively long stop-over times (total flight times were 19 hrs for SF and 16 hrs for Toronto) but the thought of a 12 hr journey by travelling via Vancouver proved decisive. So, via Vancouver it is.

We usually travel in the Autumn but because we want to see Grizzlies we have to go earlier so we’re planning late August rather than the usual November. This seems to have a dramatic effect on the cost of the flights (about 40-50% more expensive) but it’s not something we can control and now we feel for all the parents in the world who have to put up with peak time flights being so much more expensive than the rest of the year.

Also we’ll be flying with Air Canada again. Never had a bad flight, bad in flight meal, stroppy cabin crew or crappy planes so it’s a no brainer….and I like their iPhone app too.

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Go West Young Man (ok you’re not so young and take your wife too)

We weren’t going to go on holiday next year. Take a year off and save the money to go towards our New Zealand trip in 2014. Yeah, like that was going to happen. We went to Canada early this year and frankly it wasn’t our best trip so I felt under some self imposed pressure to make amends. Next time, I thought, it’ll be awesome. How to make it awesome? Do awesome things. Go and see whales, stay in a bit of luxury, go see Grizzly bears, drive a world famous bit of road and travel through a part of Canada that we haven’t been to before oh and while you’re about it, why not go on a big ferry journey past the islands of BCs coastline. That sound ok? Fair enough, let’s do it.

There’s a fair bit of planning to do trying to sort this out for various reasons so I’m starting now and looking to travel next August. Seems like a long time away and it is but I’m happier knowing that things like flights, car hire and accommodation is booked well in advance. The other good point it that by the time we go we’ve paid for a good chunk of the holiday already.

The basic plan is this…

  • Fly direct to Victoria, Vancouver Island (change planes in Vancouver).
  • Collect hire car and drive to Brentwood Bay Resort and stay for a few nights.
  • Drive to the west coast of the island and stay in Ucluelet or Tofino and while there catch a whale watching trip.
  • Drive to Port Hardy (long drive but should be fun) and stay the night
  • Catch ferry next morning to Bella Coola (takes something like 13 hours)
  • Stay in Bella Coola for a few days and go Grizzly watching
  • Drive the famous Highway 20 to Williams Lake (or thereabouts) and stay at a motel.
  • Drive to Whistler and spend a couple of nights there.
  • Drive to Vancouver, spend a couple of nights there before flying home.

A few things need ironing out before anything happens, for instance I need proper prices on flights and car hire before deciding on exact dates and I should be able to do that fairly soon. Once dates are in place we can reserve hotel rooms (some of the places we want to go book up really far in advance) and also our whale watching/Grizzly bear watching trips.

I’ll document the process as I go and I’ll be starting with the flights.