Off To Canada (Again)

Holidays in Canada

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Back in 1988 our hosts took us on a brilliant road trip through the Rockies in their Westfalia van. We stopped in Kamloops on the way to visit their friends and then stayed at a few cheap motels in both Jasper and Banff. While we were there they also took us to see Lake Louise and into Chateau Lake Louise and it’s there that my (our) love of those historic Fairmont hotels started. We’ve since stayed in quite a few of them (7) but have a few to go to get the full set. Chateau Frontenac is high on that list for me.

For this trip, as it’s a special occasion we’re returning to two of our favourite hotels and staying in one for the first time. I’m not including the first night as we’re just grabbing some sleep in an airport hotel and I picked basically the closest one to the airport. So on our first full day we’re driving up the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler and staying at the Four Seasons. We stayed there once before towards the end of our epic road trip  in 2013. We loved it so much that we said that if we ever got the chance we’d love to go back. As it’s our 30th wedding anniversary we thought this would be as good a time as any to make that happen.

The last time we arrived at the hotel, we did so after a very long muddy drive from Nimpo Lake and I have to say, we both felt embarrassed at the lumps of mud clinging to the side of the car when the valet parking guys took the keys. We loved the room, the staff, the cocktail bar and the amazing steak restaurant in the hotel and we’re really looking forward to returning.

After four nights in Whistler we’re taking the two hour drive (that timing will be checked before we depart) to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal to catch a boat over to Vancouver Island to spend four nights at the Brentwood Bay  Resort, about 30 minutes outside Victoria. We’ve actually stayed here twice before, once back in 2008 on our West Coast Adventure and again in 2013 at the start of our road trip. We love the location, the rooms, the food, the spa (ok Amanda loved the spa) and the pub (ok that was my favourite) and we can’t wait to visit again. This time we have longer so we intend to explore Victoria much more than we got the chance to do 31 years ago, not to mention it’s probably changed a lot since then. Back in 1988, I’m now ashamed to say, we went to the Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria to watch the orca show. The trainers told us (now it seemed ‘lied’ is the correct term) that the orcas could at any point easily jump over the barrier holding them in and they could return to the wild and they stay because they get fed and enjoy the activities. One of the beautiful creatures there was named Tilikum and if you have watched the documentary Blackfish you know all about Tilikum. I guess those were different times and looking back I’m horrified and saddened that we went there and paid money that perpetuated the captivity of these animals. I’m sorry. I truly am. Sealand closed in 1992 which is the only good bit of that sad tale.

Our last stop on this trip is in Vancouver itself and we have five nights in the centre of the city, staying at the Four Seasons. Although we’ve visited Vancouver a number of times, it’s usually only for a night or two, either at the start of at the end of a trip. The exception of course is 31 years ago when we travelled into the centre from Surrey quite a few times but the city has changed quite a bit since then. I’m hoping to get some tickets for the hockey while we’re there and as we have a car we can explore the parts that have been more difficult previously. We’re opposite the Vancouver Art Gallery and there happens to be an exhibition there that I really want to see. Other things on the list…Japadog, craft beers, poutine, Capilano and probably a whole lot more that we’ll try and squeeze in.

Should be fun.



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The Hill

One of the main reasons to come on this holiday or at least one of the things that got me working out the route we’d take was ‘The Hill’. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts but basically it’s a long stretch of Highway 20 going through the Tweedsmuir Provincial Park that is unpaved (packed gravel) and was the steepest in Canada (not sure what is now because this baby is STEEP) with sections at 18% gradient. You have two choices, go up or come down, depending on whether you’re going to Bella Coola or leaving Bella Coola. When I organised the trip I decided that I’d rather go up than come down, mainly after seeing some videos on YouTube. I’m going to say here and now that it was a good decision because after the amount of rain we’ve been having I really wouldn’t want to come down it. 

It starts off quite nicely and then things turn nasty quite quickly. Really sharp hairpin bends with a sheer drop on one side, or narrow sections that seem insanely steep and you hope that you don’t meet an 18 wheeler coming down as you’re going up. And yes, big trucks do go up and down, we met a driver at the lodge yesterday morning. He told us it’s much better now they expanded sections to one and a half lanes wide rather than one lane !!!! At this point I’d normally put some nice photos in to illustrate the road in question but as I was driving and Amanda spent most of the time saying “I can’t look” or “OH MY GOD” or ‘Please move away from the edge”, we don’t seem to have many photos. She did manage to point my iPhone vaguely in the direction of the car window so I’ll check those later and perhaps post a couple. I did stop the car at one point when I felt it was safe and as I turned back to the car to get back in I saw the mess that the road had made of what was a shiny new Jeep Cherokee. Then I noticed that the back of my jeans had the same mud caked to it which I’d gotten as I slid down from my seat. Afterwards I also noticed that the inside of the car was filthy too, my shoes were caked in that same brown stuff. I think I’ll have to get this cleaned when we get to Whistler more to protect our clothes than anything else. We were passed several times by what I can only assume were locals as they were driving at crazy speeds (over 10 mph). I was happy to let them on their way. I’m not sure but a might have been overtaken by a snail at one point.

I just viewed Amanda’s attempts at taking photos on my iPhone while I was driving. She took what we thought was a video clip of us going up a particularly steep hairpin bend. I’ll post the resulting 4 second masterpiece later. It consists of the dashboard and her asking how to turn it off.  The photos are almost as bad but I’ll put those up too. I warned her that we’d have to return and do it again so we can get some good photos. She’s still not woken up.

Once over the worst part, we stopped alongside a river where another couple had the same idea. They were German and were going in teh opposite direction ie down the hill. I warned them how steep it was but that Germanic stare soon established that I was merely an inefficient British person and that Teutonic driving skills would prevail. I’m sure they did fine.

After we left the nice German couple we thought we’d done the worst part and it was surely going to be a nice tarmac road from that point on. We were so very wrong. There was still hills, though not so steep, sheer drops and no sight of beautiful flat black tarmac roads for what seemed like a long long time. When we did reach civilised road surfaces it felt like you were driving on cushions, it was lovely. Never say a bad thing about British roads again. We saw a herd of wild(ish) horses on the road and some black tailed deer and some cows and some dogs. These don’t make up for not seeing bears however.

Finally we arrived at Nimpo Lake. The ‘resort’ is really an RV park with six motel rooms and a few cabins. I wish I’d booked a cabin as they look really nice, but the motel room is clean if basic, but it’s real selling point is the location. It sits right on the shore of the lake itself. We’re looking forward to sitting outside later and hopefully seeing a lot of stars as there’s nothing else around us. Of course that means that it’ll be cloudy and we’ll also hear that there was a lot of bears in Bella Coola just after we left.

Tomorrow, we were supposed to drive to Williams Lake and stay overnight. Amanda decided that we would be better off having a marathon driving day and go straight to Whistler and have an extra day there instead. So we made the relevant phonecalls using Skype (no working payphone and no mobile service) and tomorrow we embark on a 10 hour drive to Whistler. On a side note, when Amanda called the Four Seasons in Whistler we were told that the room rate had gone down since we booked and would we like to upgrade and keep the same price or have our room cheaper? As we’re staying an extra night we picked the cheaper option, but it was great to be asked. We’re not convinced that the Celtic Manor (other hotels are available) would even lower their prices let alone let you that they did of you booked in advance.

Right, where are those stars?


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Not long to go now

Quite a bit has happened since the last time I posted on here.

  • Thankfully my wife had her new driving licence delivered (now I don’t have to do ALL the driving). Not that I was worried you understand, this was my idea after all but I’m a sharing kind of person and it would be unfair to hog all that driving to myself. Yup, that’s how I’m spinning that one.
  • We booked a car to take us to the airport and collect us when we get back. I explained on the order form that we needed a car big enough to put a collapsed wheelchair and our luggage in the boot, so let’s see what turns up.  We’re using a small company that we’ve used before and the driver was very prompt and helpful, so we have our fingers crossed.
  • I ordered some currency and got that delivered to the house. I never know whether to take currency, travellers cheques, credit cards, pre pay cards or a mix. In the past we’ve gone with minimal currency and just credit/debit cards, drawing out cash as we need it but the charges in recent years seem to have gone up quite a bit (or is that my imagination?). Couple that with the fact that we won’t be spending much time in cities or larger towns this time and we thought that it would be best to take more cash than normal and back it up with our credit/debit cards. I have to say I love the Canadian ‘plastic’ money but I’m not sure how well it would go down in the UK. People seem a tad tetchy when anything resembling change to our currency is mentioned.

The final countdown has begun and we’re starting to think about putting aside clothes (and other things) we want to take. Mainly so I don’t wear items and then want them washed last minute really. We have a visitor for a few days and after that we’ll start putting things on the spare bed just to make sure I don’t forget anything.


Next time I post it’ll either be just before we leave or when we arrive on the Pacific coast of Canada.

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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