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Pacific Canada - A Few Days Around Vancouver
Vancouver, British Columbia
Diverse excursions from Vancouver are possible in as few as 4 days. To start to get a feel for the city, you need to allow at least several days more. As Canada's western hub, the city is well connected by transport. For those of you less familiar with Canada's geopolitical map, Vancouver is a kind of an end-of-the-line place. The attraction to many is that it boasts one of Canada's mildest climates and is rich with lushness, rugged mountains, and idyllic islands dotting hundreds of miles of protected coastline. Conversely, it lacks the summer heat of the prairies or central east. While mild compared to Toronto in February, rainy periods in British Columbia can extend beyond most people's sense of a reasonable duration. But, change your altitude and you can easily play in the snow of Whistler for most of the year, or within city limits at Grouse Mountain.
The drive up to Whistler takes you through North Vancouver, then West Vancouver, where there remains a beautiful stand of old growth forest. Lighthouse Park may appear to be another city park on a map, but it's lushness will reveal otherwise. You can wander for a few hours here without noticing anyone else on weekdays, but expect the weekends to be more busy. The huge oaks, pines and ferns reach out into the huge spaces around you while the moss carpeted rock faces surround you in green. Every nook reveals something fun to explore, particularly for the easterner who may not yet have encountered the giant slugs of the west. Red-barked Arbutus trees are one of the only large broad-leafed evergreens in this part of the country, and their presence adds lovely red shades to the canopy.
Continuing north, the highway to Whistler winds its way along a slender corridor between steep rock faces and tranquil bays. The aptly-named Sea to Sky Highway passes the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, through Squamish, and eventually away from the sea into Whistler. Along the way, Shannon Falls is a handy and picturesque rest stop; there are numerous mountain lookouts as well. Winter, of course, is the height of the ski season, and although glacier skiing is possible year-round, summers afford less expensive activities. The gondola runs through the summer to shuttle people up the peak for hikes, walks or mountain biking. The views from above Whistler are beautiful, and you can expect snow covered patches to last throughout the summer.
For those of you more inclined towards water-based fun, you need not go past Horseshoe Bay from where you can take one of the coastal ferries or one to Vancouver Island. The ferry to Nanaimo runs quite regularly and should be reserved in advance if you are on a schedule or if you'll be traveling on holidays or weekends; the operator is BC Ferries. Nanaimo is a fantastic place to take up some excellent diving or snorkeling. The region offers some of the most exciting temperate water diving on earth, and snorkeling with a heavy wetsuit, while a bit bulky, is pleasurable and comfortable. Besides, there are truly few places where you can comfortably get in the water with dozens of seals on a predictable basis. Ocean Explorer is the closest operator of such trips to the Nanaimo ferry terminal, and one can leave the car behind and virtually ‘walk' from Vancouver.
From Nanaimo, there are numerous choices, one can head north and explore some of the more secluded parts of the island, or south to Victoria, the provincial capital. Or, one can opt for a trip to Tofino, Uclulet (pronounced yew'clue'let) and Pacific Rim National Park. Tofino will take about 3 hours each way from Nanaimo, so it's a long day trip at best. Pacific Rim National Park offers numerous hiking trails, the famous Long Beach, and numerous boardwalks to explore. Tofino is the westernmost terminus of the Trans-Canada highway, and its surrounds provide opportunities for sea-kayaking, surfing and beachcombing. It's also becoming increasingly popular to settle in during the winter and storm watch from the comfort of a hot tub and fireplace while huge Pacific storms lash the coast. Be sure to stop just before Port Alberni on the way to sample some smoked salmon, there's a big sign on the right you can't miss -- you'll be happy you did.
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