British Columbia - Lower Mainland - August 2015

These are notes of a brief visit to Vancouver and a small part of the province.

My good friends Bill and Linda have lived there for many years, and Chris and I had last visited them in 2004 on our way to and from New Zealand. Those visits had been limited to a couple of days each way, so this was my opportunity to get a better grasp of the city and surroundings. Another previous visit to the west coast had been in the late 1980s when we did a road trip including parts of Alberta, the Rockies, the coastal range and Vancouver Island.

I arrived late on Tuesday and with only 10 days to spend, we didnt hang around, so Wednesday was orientation day! Bill and Linda live in Tsawwassen, right next to the US border crossing. They usually fill up with gas in the states saving 25c a litre - crossing the border is very easy for them and the round trip takes about 15 to 20 minutes! (as long as there are no queues at the border - if there are, they delay the excursion until there aren't.)

On Thursday it was off to the Okanagan for a couple of days. It is a spectacular drive up into the mountains, and we took the route which includes the Coquihalla highway, which I remember had not long been opened in the 80's. Bill had a business appointment in Salmon Arm, and we arrived in good time for that. As we headed soutn into the Okanagan valley we noticed that the smoke haze from forest fires further south of us was gradually thickening, so that by the time we stopped at one of the many wineries (for a tasting and snack) we were unable to see any detail in the surrounding mountains. Quite disappointing. At Gray Monk Winery we sat having our cheese-board looking out over the lake and the smoke haze!!!

We stayed in Kelowna, and again the haze obscured the mountain views. Obviously a very nice lakeside city with lots of potential, but a proper visit will have to be delayed until there are fewer fires. An evening at the casino provided us with several hours of entertainment... - at no cost in the end - Bill's winnings covered the drinks!

So the next morning, Friday, we headed out west towards Merrit and onwards and north-west along the Nicola River valley to where is intersects with the Thompson River at Spence's Bridge. This was through truly spectacular mountain scenery. Not as high as the Rockies, but deep valleys and interesting geology.

We got home in time for me to assist Bill in some maintenance work on his bee hive. Linda gave him bee-keeping lessons for his birthday, and he plans to have 3 hives next year. I was pleased to find that the bees were NZers and the queen was named Helen after a recent Prime Minister! She seems very healthy and prolific, and Bill is happy that he wont have to replace her any time soon. He expects to get about 60 pounds of honey per hive, in fact he harvested that much this year - the first so that is good.

[Note: Bill thinks I should take it up as a hobby, but I will have to think about it - especially since I may not be able to have a hive in my garden (too small/shady/close to neighbours pool). Part of the fun is being able to relax while watching their activity, but having the hive elsewhere restricts that a bit.]

Saturday: We weren't directly affected by the power outages/stormy weather you may have heard about on Saturday, although some traffic lights not working did cause some problems! And we got caught in Stanley Park when a tree blocked the road: we then had to go out the "wrong way"and ended up crossing to West/North Van and unable to get back because of a broken-down bus in the (only) southbound lane. What a mess. The rain accompaanying the storm was much needed, as none had fallen since April!

We decided to have a coffee only to find that most of the coffee shops/malls had no power!!! However, we eventually found some, abandoned plans to visit the Vancouver Art Gallery that day, and took nearly 3 hours to get back to Tsawwassen! Took Bill and Linda to their local Sushi restaurant - very good.

Sunday: "Did" the gallery the next day, but took the Skytrain from Bridgeport (near the airport)... much more sensible - efficient, clean and cheap.

Monday was a trip to see Squamish and the Sea to Sky Gondola. We were a little worried that clouds might obscure the views, but they moved around a lot, and although we saw no blue sky, we did see the sea and islands and waterfalls and mountains, and a mini-glacier. Altogether a must-do experience when in Vancouver. A final visit to the West Coast Railway Heritage Park and off home in good time for dinner!

Tuesday was relaxation day... a visit to the BC guide dog school started by Bill and Linda. They have moved to different premises since I last visited with Chris in 2004 when we were on our way to NZ. They are planning a kennel block. It will be very nice when done, and convenient too. Flew out around 11pm PDT on the red-eye via Montreal, and arrived home after a delay at 11am EDT., Wednesday Slept......zzzzz!!!!