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December 6, 2016

Top 10 memorable moments from a Canada road trip

Top 10 memorable moments from a Canada road trip
At the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff Canada

Zoe and Ali at the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff

When you go on an RV road trip in Canada, you’re guaranteed a great many memorable moments, whichever part of the country you visit. But when you drive through British Columbia and Alberta via the Rockies from Vancouver to Calgary these moments tumble over each other almost every hour. Here are just a few that stand out, but there were many more …

1. Walking in the desert at Osoyoos

Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre - Osoyoos - Canada

Osoyoos Desert – Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

The heat is the biggest surprise. The sun beats down as we walk though scrubby bushes and stunted trees. The heady scent from a herby shrub wafts past, bringing back vague memories of the wilder parts of Greece. Travel companion Ali is wearing a hat to keep cool as we walk through the desert. Yes, we’re in Canada, not a place you think of as really hot or with a desert, but at Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre we learn about this unique ecology and wildlife, including the Western Rattlesnake and the Cayote. We learn about the Osoyoos Indian Band, who run the Desert Centre and nearby RV Park and admire Smoker Marchand sculptures. It’s fascinating, surprising and very hot.

2.  Eating cherries on the road

Cherries from a farm shop in Okanagan Valley Canada

Cherries at the farm shop

We buy a kilo of big, fat, sweet and oh so very juicy cherries from one of the farm shops along the Okanagan Valley. It’s late spring and the whole area is bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables in this very fertile part of southern Canada. We’ve been told to get the cherries as it’s the best crop for years. We’re on our way to the Rockies but have a long way to go and these deep red globes of delicious goodness keep us going all the way to Revelstoke. Fortunately there is a market and we can stock up again; luckily they last until our first glimpse of the Rockies.

3.  The Pipe Mountain Coaster, Revelstoke

The Pipe Mountain Coaster Revelstoke

Ready, steady, go …

‘Keep off the brake. Don’t be a chicken!’ The words of the bearded Canadian guy in the queue, resound in my ears as I zoom down the sheer drop VERY fast. I desperately want to pull brake, but two things stop me.

  • I’m worried I’m going so fast I’ll tip out
  • I don’t want to be a chicken.

I’m on the Pipe Mountain Coaster in Revelstoke, British Columbia. Riding up in the gondola, the Monashee Mountains and Columbia River spread beneath us. Whizzing down the mountain, I’ve no time to look at the view. Fir trees flick past as the little cart twists, turns and at one point appears to shoot off the edge, accelerating past a ski run on its way down 1.4km of track at up to 26mph. All too soon, I’m at the end, exhilarated and wanting to do again – me no chicken!

4  BBQ at Dutch Lake Resort, Clearwater

BBQ burgers at Dutch Lake Resort Canada - photo zoedawes

Burgers for dinner

The sound of wood chopping has stopped and there’s smoke wafting in through the door of the RV. Ali’s got the BBQ going and I’ve finished preparing the salad and opened a couple of beers. Beef burgers from a local butcher sizzle merrily on the metal rack we’ve just bought from Dutch Lake Resort shop. A couple of guys from the RV next door come over to chat whilst we wait for the burgers to cook. The sun’s setting over the lily-strewn lake and frogs start croaking in the shallows. The tantalizing smell of onions and burgers get the taste buds going. Love eating outdoors in Canada …

5.  The Rockies from the top of Whistler Mountain

The Rockies and Jasper Sky Tram - Whistler Mountain - Canada - photo zoedawes

The Rockies and Jasper Sky Tram

At last I’m here, on top of Whistler Mountain gazing out across the most famous mountains in North America. Their pointed tops ripple across the horizon, perfectly mountainy. Snow glitters in the late afternoon light and a ribbon of river ripples through the wooded valley. A lake of startling blue water glistens and winks upwards. Quirky Jasper town curves alongside the railway track and birds glide on the chilly thermals. Neither words nor photos can do justice to this awesome sight.

6. Relaxing by Medicine Lake

Wild flowers by Medicine Lake in the Rockies - photo zoedawes

Wild flowers by Medicine Lake

The calm waters ripple briefly as a duck floats serenely past. At the end of the lake tower the jaggy peaks of the Rockies, reflected in shimmering symmetry. I drink in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Medicine Lake in the heart of Jasper National Park, in Alberta. Delicate white and yellow wild flowers bend their dainty heads in the gentle breeze and overhead a large bird wheels its way across the cloud-flecked sky; too far away to see if it’s a bald eagle. A stone lands with a resounding splash to my left and two children giggle; the spell is broken and it’s time to move on and explore more …

7.  Driving the RV along the Icefields Parkway

RV on the Icefields Parkway The Rockies Canada - photo zoedawes

RV on the Icefields Parkway

After hundreds of miles we are finally driving along one of the world’s most spectacular roads, the Icefields Parkway, from Jasper to Banff. Every twist and turn reveals more mountains until we feel completely surrounded. We are running parallel to the Continental Divide from Jasper National Park to Banff National Park stopping off at the Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Pass, Stutfield and Athabasca Glaciers, Peyto Lake, Wildfowl Lake and Lake Louise.  We see mountain goats, many birds, wild flowers and tourists. It could take us a few hours; it actually takes us all day, every mile a miracle of natural wonder and delight …

8.  The unbelievable blue of Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake Alberta Canada - photo zoedawes

Peyto Lake

You have to see it to believe it …

9. Cocktail at the Banff Springs Hotel

Cocktail on the Terrace Banff Springs Hotel Canada

Cocktail on the Terrace

After all the driving, staying in campgrounds and sightseeing it’s so relaxing to have a Mojito on the terrace of the splendidly luxurious Banff Springs Hotel. With panoramic views of the Bow River and the Rocky Mountains, it’s a suitably fitting place to absorb scenery and reflect on our epic road trip through the Rockies …

10. To boldly go – to Vulcan

RV outside Trekcetera Museum Alberta

RV outside Trekcetera Museum

From the sublime to the … well, not ridiculous, but definitely surreal. Walking into a room with wall-to-wall costumes and artefacts from Star Trek, being shown round by a flamboyant and highly entertaining TV and movie enthusiast, dressed as a 19th C dandy cowboy, is a really quirky contrast to the natural wonders we have seen over the past couple of weeks. The Trekcetera Museum in Vulcan (the town name came first) has the largest collection of Trekkie memorabilia in Canada and we feel vaguely hysterical as we leave to find a bottle of wine for our last night sleeping in our trusty RV. Live long and prosper …

Trekcetera Museum Vulcan

Trekcetera Museum

#ExploreCanada Road Trip

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign, driving the RV from Vancouver to Montreal. Many thanks to Alison Bailey for her unfailing good humour, practical advice and excellent driving. Much gratitude to all the people we met along the way who made it such a memorable trip.


Read more about our Canada RV road trip:

The Quirky Traveller: History in the Rocky Mountains

Heather on Her Travels: Foodie Adventures – Ontario and Quebec

Travel with Kat: Top 10 things to do in British Columbia

On the Luce: Calgary to Toronto – Unforgettable Moments

November 16, 2016

A dash of history & culture in the Rocky Mountains

A dash of history & culture in the Rocky Mountains
Tete Jaune - logo for Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives Museum

Tete Jaune

History in the Rocky Mountains


A hiker strides out into the wilderness of one of North America’s most renowned regions. He is Tête Jaune, the legendary pathfinder of the Yellowhead Pass through the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Part Iroquois and part European, (Métis) Pierre Bostonnais was a fur trader and worked with the Hudson Bay Trading company in the Rockies. He is now the logo for the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives, an excellent little museum in Jasper, Alberta, showcasing the fascinating history and culture of the area.

Jasper Museum exhibition in the Rocky Mountains

Jasper Museum exhibition

Explorers and traders forged a way through the Rocky Mountains, in the pioneering days of the early 1800s. Trading with the local First Nation people, they were intrepid adventurers whose everyday life is recreated in tableaux throughout the museum. When Jasper Haws took command of a small provisions depot in 1815 it became known as Jasper’s House and became the centre for a small community responsible for meeting transportation and supply needs, caring for horses grazing in the valley, and trading goods for meat and furs with Aboriginal groups, including Iroquois and Métis peoples. Grainy black and white photos show earnest men wielding guns and tools, digging, fishing, building and relaxing, in what must have been extremely inhospitable conditions. Even today, Jasper has a ‘wild-west’ feel to it, enclosed by the mighty Rockies and prey to every kind of weather, often in one day.

Jasper Trading Post

Jasper Trading Post

The railway brought huge changes to Jasper and surrounding area, connecting it to the outside world so much easier. As the population of the town grew, the good times rolled and prosperity boomed. The opening of W.S. Jeffery department store meant locals did not have to wait months for basics and luxuries. More women came, bringing style and elegance and music and dancing became popular. The first tourists began to arrive, eager to see experience the ‘wilderness’ for themselves.

Stylish Jasper history in Museum - Rocky Mountains

Stylish Jasper

There’s a fairly lengthy but highly informative film ‘Jasper – Just Passing Through’ which tells the story of Jasper from the very early days of civilization, to the arrival of surveyor David Thompson and the Hudson Bay Company, up to the present day. Equally important is the life of the First Nation peoples, who first traversed the Athabasca Valley through the Rocky Mountains, using the land that is now Jasper National Park, as seasonal hunting and gathering grounds. There are some lovely objects on display, including moccasins and beautifully embroidered bags.

First Nation objects in Jasper Museum Alberta - image zoedawes

First Nation objects

Visitors who arrive by rail or vehicle will invariably find themselves at the Jasper Park Information Centre. The oldest building in the town, it’s officially designated as a Canadian National Historic Site. Built in 1913-1914 as Jasper National Park administration building, it became the visitor contact centre in 1972. It was one of the first rustic style buildings to be built in a Canadian national park. The staff there are extremely helpful and if you are stuck for accommodation (book ahead if you can) or want to know what to do and where to go, this is the place.

Jasper National Park Centre Rocky Mountains

Jasper National Park Centre

Opposite is one of the most famous landmarks in the town; the Two Brothers Totem Pole. Erected in 2011 to replace the original one, it was made by the Haida people, it is 13.7 metres tall and painted in traditional Haida colours of red, black and blue. Splendid carvings include a grizzly bear, a frog and a raven, topped by a Brother gazing out over the Rockies, ‘ … represents the timeless values that will help present and future generations of Canadians to connect with national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas.’

Jasper Totem Pole - Rocky Mountains - photo zoedawes

Jasper Totem Pole


At the opposite end of one of the world’s top roads, the Icefield Parkway, is Banff, a more genteel mountain town than Jasper, and the home of Canada’s first National Park. When the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built, railway workers discovered hot springs in 1883, though known by local First Nation peoples for thousands of years. Realising they would become a visitor attraction, the president of CPR built the Scottish baronial style Banff Springs Hotel and the rest is tourism history. To protect the springs from over-commercialisation, the area was declared a National Park and the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is hugely popular with tourists today.

The Rocky Mountains from the Cave and Basin National Historic Site Banff Canada- photo zoedawes

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

To get an insight into the First Nation culture and pioneer history of the Rockies, there’s not better place than Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. It’s an accessible size with interesting objects well-displayed. The original collection was started by locals Peter and Catharine Whyte and includes, ‘artifacts that help tell the stories of Aboriginal people, artists, immigrants, guides and outfitters, climbers, surveyors, hikers, explorers, adventurers, skiers and residents of the town and area. Artifacts pertaining to the development of Banff National Park are also included.’

Rocky Mountains Park - Whyte Museum Banff

Rocky Mountains Park Exhibitions

There are a couple of art galleries with changing exhibitions; they showcase local and national artists with a very eclectic and often thought-provoking slant. This very attractive and seemingly innocuous sculpture of the Rocky Mountains, a road and some mountain sheep appears very innocuous until you see the blurb. It’s actually a protest by Denise Smith against the controversial Glacier ‘Skywalk’ the Icefields Parkway.

'Skywalk' by Denise Smith Whyte Museum Banff

‘Skywalk’ by Denise Smith

There are plenty of other places to get a feel for the history and culture of the Rocky Mountains in Banff, including the taxidermy heaven of Banff Park Museum. Dating to 1903, the timber-framed building was designed to house a unique collection of all the animals found the National Park. Along Banff Avenue are a number of historic buildings from the early days of rail travel, which add to the town’s heritage charm. For a glimpse into its luxurious past and present, take the Historical Tour at the imposing and stylish Fairmont Banff Springs.

Sir William van Horne and Banff Springs Hotel

Sir William van Horne and Banff Springs Hotel

A knowledgeable guide explains how the hotel came into being, takes you through various majestic halls, ballrooms, corridors, restaurants and bars, telling amusing anecdotes about the hotel’s founder, staff, visitors and ghosts! Thanks to my charming guide Tom.) Have a cocktail on the terrace overlooking the sinuous Bow River and mighty Rocky Mountains and feel a part of the unique fabric of this towering region of Canada. Unforgettable …

Cocktail on Banff Springs Hotel terrace Rocky Mountains Canada - zoedawes

Cheers from Banff Springs

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign. Many thanks to Alison Bailey for her unfailing good humour, practical advice and excellent driving. Much gratitude to all the people we met along the way who made it such a memorable trip.

More on our Travelator Media #explorecanada RV trip from Vancouver to Montreal:

The Quirky Traveller: 24 hours in Calgary

Travel with Kat: The Wildlife of Canada’s Clayoquot Sound

On the Luce: Exploring Ontario’s Provincial Parks

Heather on Her Travels: A Perfect Day in Montreal

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Rocky Mountains Canada - History and Culture

October 19, 2016

Top Tips for your RV road trip in Canada

Top Tips for your RV road trip in Canada

It looked a lot bigger than I had imagined. It also looked a lot prettier, covered in views of Canada’s splendid scenery. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Once you get on the road, you’ll soon forget its size and be enjoying yourself behind the wheel.” I was at the Cruise Canada pick-up centre in Vancouver, about to set off on a two-week RV (Recreational Vehicle) road trip to Calgary via the Rocky Mountains, with photographer Alison Bailey. Luckily, Ali was familiar with driving a camper van and took in all the instructions from the very helpful guy at the depot.

Cruise Canada Standard RV

Picking up Rocky – Cruise Canada Standard RV

He was right. Once we were on the road and got used to driving Rocky (we were going through the Rockies so it seemed appropriate to name this hunky vehicle), it did become much easier. We had the Standard version, which is 25′ long, sleeps 5 and comes with a gas cooker and sink, fridge-freezer, plenty of cupboard space, water, electricity and sewage connections, a shower and big beds. For two weeks we travelled across Canada in this RV (motorhome), including the stupendous Rockies, staying in RV campgrounds of varying standards and facilities, met some lovely people along the way and found out more about the Canadian ‘culture’ of the RV road trip. You can follow our route on this map. Here’s what I learnt.

Map RV Road Trip from Vancouver to Calgary Canada

RV Road Trip – Vancouver to Calgary

RV Road Trip Tips

1.  Book a vehicle that’s big enough for your RV road trip

Nk'Mip RV Park Osoyoos Lake

RV beside Lake Osoyoos

Yes, I know it sounds obvious but actually it’s easy to just go by the number of sleeping spaces and think that’s going to be fine. We were doing our trip on behalf of Explore Canada who’d booked the trip and I had assumed, as there were only two of us, we’d get Cruise Canada’s smallest RV, the Compact, which sleeps three ie with one double bed and one single made up from the dining table. Thank goodness we got the next size up. Apart from both needing a decent size bed, we didn’t have to keep shifting the table and also there was way more space inside for all our things. If you’re going for a weekend then maybe a smaller size is fine, but for longer, then go for the bigger size if you can afford it. Had been actually been 5 of us in the Standard RV it would have been VERY cosy …

Nk'Mip RV Park Osoyoos Lake

Our first 2 nights were spent in Osoyoos on the Canada/USA border in the excellent Nk’Mip RV Park and Campground. We were lucky to get a pitch by the lake, and as you can see, Rocky was most definitely NOT the biggest kid on the block. Some Canadian and American RVs are HUGE!

2.  Make sure your RV has enough storage space

Interior of Cruise Canada Standard RV

Ali getting the lowdown on the interior of the RV

This follows on directly from Tip 1, but is relevant whatever size RV you get. If you’re on a long road trip, you’ll probably be taking quite a lot of stuff with you. Canada’s climate is very changeable, depending on where you are and what season. We travelled in early summer and got everything from hot sunshine in Osoyoos in the Okanagan Valley and Calgary, to sleet and cool winds in the Rockies. Our RV had loads of storage, as you can see from this video, not only for clothes but also for food and cooking utensils. There was a fridge and also a freezer, which was really useful as we cooked almost every day during our trip. On the outside of the RV there was a large storage space which had our picnic table and chairs, spare wood for BBQ plus extra food.

Food and drink in RV

Food and drink in RV

The second stop on our road trip was at the Williamson Lake Campground in quirky Revelstoke, a railway town with a vibrant winter sports scene. It rained quite heavily here and it was great to have plenty of space to make a meal, eat at the table and then relax ‘indoors’ in the evening. You can see the RV interior in this video.

3.  Familiarise yourself with all the ‘technical things’

RV driver cab storage

The Driver’s Cab essentials …

There’s no getting away from it, a motorhome or RV has a lot more things to get to know than a car or even a simple camper van. If you’re British, you may not have driven an automatic before and there’s something called the Tow Hold for going up (or was it down?) hills. You need to be clear about the electrics for the interior lighting and heating but most important is the Hook-Up. This is where you get to connect the electricity, water (and sewage if you’re lucky) to the mains on your RV pitch at the campground. It’s not difficult, just a matter of remembering which way to turn things, but it is really IMPORTANT. Watch Ali demonstrating the Cruise Canada RV Hook Up in this video.

Here’s where I make a confession. During the whole trip I didn’t once do the hook-up. Ali very kindly did all that every time we arrived and departed – and got VERY quick at it. You can see more of super-star Ali here as she demonstrates UNHOOKING the Cruise Canada RV in this video.

NB: Make sure you know what noise the smoke/gas detector makes. Ali had gone for a walk and I was in the RV parked by the Columbia River in Revelstoke, writing my journal when suddenly there was a very loud and continuous noise. I couldn’t work out what it was or where in the RV it was coming from. Fortunately Ali came back in time; I’d not turned off a gas ring properly and it was the alarm telling me to get out before I succumbed to propane gas fumes … Thanks Ali!

RV at Columbia River Revelstoke

RV beside the Columbia River, Revelstoke

4.  Cook and eat outdoors

Lunch overlooking Lake Okanagan - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Lunch overlooking Okanagan Lake

One of the huge pluses in an RV Road Trip is being able stop when you want, rustle up a snack, get out the chairs and enjoy the view. Most memorable was lunch on a sunny day driving from Osoyoos to Revelstoke when we stopped beside Okanagan Lake. As you can see, we really did relax. Nearly all the campgrounds we visited had a fire-pit or BBQ plus a bench beside each RV pitch. If there is a site shop, it will usually sell wood and charcoal. If not, stock up on some at the local supermarket. Ali was a dab hand at chopping wood, borrowing an axe from whoever was parked nearby, and could get a fire going, even in the rain. We ate outside as often as possible, using the fire-pit when we could or just rustling up something inside and eating it beside the van. It’s very sociable as many others will be doing the same.

BBQ meal RV Road Trip Canada

BBQ dinner at Dutch Lake Resort

At tranquil Dutch Lake Resort and RV Park in Clearwater, near Wells Gray Provincial Park BC, we had a great time cooking burgers and then enjoying them with a beer overlooking the pretty lake.

5. Enjoy the drive

Zoe Dawes driving on RV road trip Canada

Driving the RV

Canadian roads are generally wide and easy to navigate. Our RV had very big wing mirrors, split in two (see photo above by Columbia River) so we could see all along the side to the back of the vehicle. After some initial nerves about the length and width of our RV, I soon forgot about it and felt (amost) as comfortable driving Rocky as I did my own car back home. One warning; Canadian road signs are pants! They seem to assume you know where you are going and hardly ever seem to give directions for where you need to be. Our Cruise Canada RV didn’t have satnav – thanks heavens for Google Maps.

The Rockies - RV Road Trip Canada - image zoedawes

On the road to the Rockies

 If you’re doing the Rockies in your RV (and that is such a great way to see this iconic mountain region), then be prepared for some seriously great scenery round every corner. Apart from the initial route out of Vancouver, we mainly drove along the flat,  not OVER the mountains, which was a pleasant surprise. Ali and I took it in turns so we could enjoy the view and take photos through the van window. Once we got to the Jasper National Park we could barely speak for excitement at the views. (The signage improved too.)

The Rockies in Jasper National Park - RV Road Trip - image zoedawes

The Rockies in Jasper National Park

We spent one memorable night in the pouring rain at Gregg Lake Campground, in William A Switzer Provincial Park. It was notable for the limited facilities (we had no water or sewage pipe but there was a shower block) and the abundance of pine trees. On the way there we saw the most splendid rainbow arcing over the Rocky Mountains.

Rainbow in the Rockies - RV Road Trip Canada - image zoedawes

Rainbow from RV window

6.  Keep your eyes open

Rocky Mountain Sheep at Miette Hot Springs - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Rocky Mountain Sheep at Miette Hot Springs

Keep your eyes open, not just so you don’t fall asleep but also to spot the vast array of wildlife you’ll see along the way. We saw mountain sheep at Miette Hot Springs and TWO black bears beside the road in the Rockies. Tip: if you see a number of vehicles pulled up by the roadside, chances are there’s a wild animal nearby.

Black bears in the Rockies - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Black bears from the RV

“Zoe, wake up. There are elk all round the RV.” It was about 6am  in Whistler’s Campground near Jasper and Ali woke me up to see these elegant animals, which were sleeping, eating and totally unbothered by all the RVs and two avid photographers nearby.

Elk in Whistlers Campground - RV Road Trip Canada - image zoedawes

Elk beside the RV

Click on link to see more elk at Whistler’s Campground – not the best quality video but you get an idea of how close we were!

7.  Plan your trip carefully

Banff town signpost - RV road trip Canada - image zoedawes

Banff town

I’ve left this to last as it is possibly the most important. Before you leave home, have a good look at a map and talk with anyone who has been to the area you’re visiting. Your hire company can help too. Hopefully you’ll have lots of stops and time to explore, but remember the distances can be great, there are strict speed limits (National Parks max 90 kms ph), and there is so much to see you’ll want to stop often. We could have driven the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff in about 3 hours. It took us all day; it truly deserves its reputation as one of the world’s top road routes.

Stutfield Glacier - Icefields Parkway Canada - image zoedawes

Stutfield Glacier – Icefields Parkway

You’ll need to take time out to rest as sometimes you’ll probably have long distances to drive. On our RV road trip we drove over 3,500 kilometres in two weeks from Vancouver to Calgary, which meant just about every other day was a long drive. Sharing the driving really helps. When you’ve got your route clear, choose your campgrounds carefully. They usually have more facilities than UK ones, and are geared up for big RVs but some have more amenities than others. You may want a shop or restaurant and a launderette is very handy. Our shower was small so we used the wash blocks on all the sites we visited. At Spring Creek RV Campground in Canmore, not far from Banff, there was everything we needed, though it was more crowded than some others. BOOK in ADVANCE, especially during high season or in popular areas like the National Parks.

Spring Creek RV Campground - Banff Canada

Spring Creek RV Campground

And finally …

Our last stop was in the really quirky town of Vulcan, which is the Star Trek capital of Canada … in some ways it was a very suitable place for our last night with Rocky. No mountains, rivers or glaciers, just the wide prairies of Alberta and a space ship! The sun set as we had our last meal (sausage and sweet potato mash with red wine) as we reminisced.

RV in Vulcan Alberta Canada

RV in Vulcan

Ali and I loved every minute of our RV Road Trip and we were  really sad when we handed Rocky back to the Cruise Canada depot in Calgary. I hope you get a chance to experience something similar – if I can do it, anyone can …

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Top Tips for Canada RV Road Trip

#ExploreCanada Road Trip

I visited British Columbia as a guest of Explore Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign. Many thanks to Alison Bailey for her unfailing good humour, practical advice and excellent driving. Much gratitude to all the people we met along the way who made it such a memorable trip.

Read more about our road trip:

The Quirky Traveller: 24 hours in Calgary

Heather on her Travels: How to drive an RV from Toronto to Montreal

Travel with Kat: Vancouver Island Road Trip

On the Luce: First timer’s guide to driving an RV

September 20, 2016

Enjoy 24 hours in Calgary, Alberta

Enjoy 24 hours in Calgary, Alberta
Calgary Stampede Sign - image zoe dawes

Calgary Stampede Sign

The large red sign on the highway summed it all up; ‘Horses always have Right of Way. It’s a Stampede Thing’. The Calgary Stampede is Calgary’s USP. Billed as the Largest Outdoor Show on Earth, it attracts over 2.5 million visitors every July (plus lots of horses) and brings a wild-west tang to the city. Originally a small agricultural fair started in 1886 to promote Calgary and lure farmers to move from west to east, it quickly grew in popularity. The exhilarating covered-wagon races were a huge draw in the 1920s and still attract big crowds today.

Covered Wagon exhibit in BMO Centre Calgary Stampede Park - image zoe dawes

Covered Wagon exhibit – BMO Centre

I was in Calgary just a week before this epic festival kicked off and the whole city was ablaze with all things Stampede-related. It was the final day of our Canadian RV Road Trip through British Columbia and Alberta from Vancouver via the Rocky Mountains. We’d left the iconic mountains to cross the ‘endless’ prairies, so very flat after the spectacular ups and downs of the majestic Rockies. The sun shone and the heat increased as we reached Calgary, the sunniest city in Canada.

Cruise Canada RV Calgary

Cruise Canada Calgary

My fellow traveller, photographer Alison Bailey, and I had driven our Cruise Canada RV (Recreational Vehicle = motor-home), nicknamed Rocky in honour of our route, over 3,000km and were very pleased to have arrived in Calgary, not only unscathed, but having had an absolutely wonderful trip. We dropped Rocky off at the Cruise Canada RV depot on the outskirts of the city and had 24 hours to explore Calgary before we returned home to the UK.

Calgary City Centre Alberta - photo zoe dawes

Calgary City Centre

We stayed overnight at the Lakeview Signature Inn, close to the airport. Our comfortable suite of rooms seemed very luxurious after 2 weeks in our RV (though I am a total convert to motorhome travel now). The helpful receptionist gave us a map and suggested we got the C-Train (Light Railway) into the city centre, where we could see all the main sites within a fairly small area. Skyscrapers soared above the Alberta prairies as we got nearer, crossing the Bow River, which we’d last seen winding sinuously through Banff in the heart of the Rockies. We got off the train near the Town Hall and headed to the Calgary Tower, which my guide book said was home to the Tourist Information Centre.

Calgary Tower - image zoe dawes

 Not any more. It’s a dedicated tourist attraction, selling tickets to whiz you up 190m, 62 floors, in just over minute, but no sign of the Tourism Office. Never mind; Calgary city centre is built on the classic North American grid system so it’s very easy to get around. Everyone seems to gravitate towards Stephen Avenue, a pleasant walkway, lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and some attractive older buildings.

Stephen Avenue Calgary Albert - photo zoe dawes

Stephen Avenue

 The Tourist Information Office is now situated on Macleod Trail and they suggested visiting the Glenbow Museum, on the corner of Stephen Avenue. It’s one of Canada’s largest museums and hosts a number major temporary exhibitions as well as having over 20 permanent galleries. They chart the history of Canadian West with First Nation exhibits, with a special section on the Blackfoot people and displays from the 19thC pioneering era. It’s also home to contemporary art and militaria from around the world. Or so the marketing blurb says; unfortunately it was closed the day we visited …

Glenbow Museum Calgary - Alberta - photo zoe dawes

You might imagine, in a place famous for its ‘frontier’town’ atmosphere, there would be ‘cowboys’ sporting stetsons all over the city. No. There were plenty of people dressed for work in shirt sleeves, dresses, suits and more casual tourists, but hardly a stetson in sight. I saw one guy on the train; that was it. However, we were told that as soon as the Calgary Stampede started, “everyone thinks they’re a cowboy” and everyone dresses up. But fear not, you can buy the iconic headgear on street stalls and shops all over Calgary, with prices varying from a few dollars to much more, depending on the quality of the hat.

Stetson stall Calgary - photo zoe dawes

Stetsons for sale

As the sun sank down behind the skyscrapers, we decided to have a meal in town before returning to our hotel. We chose Milestones on Stephen Avenue, as it was Happy Hour and their cocktails looked great. I can highly recommend their Original Bellini; very colourful and moreish. We had a selection of small bites including crisply perfect Asian Chicken Bites, followed by Steak Frites; melt-in-the-mouth fillet steak, golden Parmesan fries, delicate buttermilk onion rings and truffle aioli. Perfect meal for our last night in Canada.

Meal at Milestones Calgary - photo zoe dawes

Milestones meal

The next morning we checked out of our hotel, leaving our luggage to be collected after lunch. We got the C-Train back into Calgary, where we split up. I wanted to visit two major sights, whilst Ali wanted to do some photography. I got another train to Stampede Park, home to the famous festival, which was gearing up for opening the following week. I wandered into the BMO Centre (Bank of Montreal) where I found a perfect little gem of a museum; the Grain Academy. Volunteer and enthusiastic raconteur Gordon showed me round the quaint exhibition which tells the history and importance of grain to Canada and the rest of the world. There’s a very big model railway showing the journey of grain from the Alberta prairies through the Rockies to Vancouver. (If you travel through this part of Canada you can’t miss the VERY long trains transporting this valuable commodity for global distribution.)

Grain Academy Painting - Calgary

Grain Academy Mural

On the main corridor outside the Grain Academy is the wonderful Calgary Stampede ‘Parade of Posters‘. There is one poster from almost every year since 1912 to the present day. Not only does it give a fascinating summary of the way the show has grown over the decades, but it also illustrates the history of art and poster making.

Historic Calgary Stampede Posters - photo zoe dawes

The most famous is the 1923 poster. The sketch of a cowboy on a bucking bronc by Edward Borein, called I See U was designed vertically so the poster would fit on a telephone pole. This image has been immortalised in an electrifying bronze sculpture at the entrance to the Park.

I See You - bronze sculpture Calgary Stampede Park - photo zoedawes

‘I See You’ sculpture

There’s a really excellent Art Trail which takes you round all the Public Art works on display here. They illustrate the history of Alberta and reflect an aspect of Canada’s heritage in an original and entertaining way. ‘By the Banks of the Bow’ is one of the biggest sculptures in North America.

There are a number of stadiums which host events and entertainment. You can visit the Stampede Ground any time of the year.

By the Banks of the Bow sculpture - Stampede Park Calgary - photo zoe dawes

‘By the Banks of the Bow’ sculpture and Saddledome

The last place I went to was Fort Calgary, It was built by the North West Mounted Police in 1875 due to its strategic position where the Bow and Elbow Rivers meet. Reconstructed in modern times, Fort Calgary now houses an award-winning interpretative centre telling the story of Calgary and its pioneering past. There are some interesting recreations including a carpenter’s workshop. I didn’t have time to walk beside the river, but it looks like a nice way to end your day.

Fort Calgary and Colonel McLeod statue - photo zoe dawes

Fort Calgary and Colonel McLeod statue

Ali and I met up for a quick bite to eat; we only had time to grab a sandwich from a street cafe, before we got the C-Train back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and headed off to the airport. Even though we’d only had 24 hours in Calgary, we’d managed to get a really good feel for this vibrant, historic city of contrasts.

Cocktails at Milestones Calgary - zoe dawes

Cheers from Ali and Zoe

I travelled to Calgary as a guest of Destination Canada on the Travelator Media RV Road Trip from Vancouver to Montreal. More articles about our trip:

The Quirky Traveller – Top 10 Memorable Moments from a Canada Road Trip

Travel with Kat – The Sunshine Coast

On the LuceWaterfront Toronto

Heather on her TravelsA perfect day in Montreal

Watch out for more articles on this amazing adventure across Canada.

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Calgary in 24 hours - zoe dawes


October 20, 2015

A Digital Detox with the bears of British Columbia

A Digital Detox with the bears of British Columbia

Flying into Knight Inlet Lodge by sea-plane on a May morning is like entering another world, where time stands still and bears rule the wilderness …

Grizzly bear cubs Knight Inlet BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Grizzly bear cubs at Knight Inlet


On our ever-noisier digital planet, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to hear nature’s voice, to tune in to the subtle nuances the seasons bring, to smell, not the aroma of man-made coffee, but damp grass during a rain-storm. Yet we all need to be around nature or we start to internally combust. We are animals, not machines and spending hours a day ‘relating’ to a computer screen or mobile phone does us no good in the long term. Every so often we need a digital detox to remind ourselves what life is REALLY all about and put things into perspective. That’s what a few days with the bears of British Columbia provides. Here’s how …

ear Watching Knight Inlet BC Knight Inlet

Bear Viewing at Knight Inlet

Digital Detox with Bears in BC

There’s only one way visitors can get to the bear lodge and that’s by float plane (seaplane) from Campbell River. Watch the BC float plane video (Some people go into Knight Inlet by boat but that’s for day tours or personal trips.) You have a relatively small luggage allowance as the planes only seat 8-10 people in a tight space, so you’re forced to ditch the party frocks, suit jackets and unnecessary fripperies, to be left securely locked up at the airport until you return. You’re also asked not to bring perfumed toiletries that might attract the bears. The Lodge provides unscented shampoo and soap, waterproofs, safety gear, footwear and even binoculars so you can just take the ‘bear necessities’ …

View from seaplane of BC - photo zoedawes

View from plane

As you fly over the rugged, tree-clad landscape you realise you truly are getting away from it all as signs of human habitation are few and far between. The aerial view of Knight Inlet Lodge, nestled on the shore of Glendale Cove highlights its isolation amidst the magnificent forests, snow-capped mountain and fathoms-deep fjords of the Pacific Northwest region of Canada.

Aerial view Knight Inlet Lodge BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Aerial view Knight Inlet Lodge BC

With just 18 guest bedrooms, the Lodge is never over-crowded. The rooms have queen-size beds, en-suite bathrooms and views out across Glendale Cove or craggy rocks. However, there is NO TV in the rooms and NO internet, so you have SWITCH OFF! Yes, it may sound a bit like going ‘cold turkey, but believe me, it’s not difficult to do and you very quickly adapt to a different pace of life. With excellent food (meals and wine included), interesting talks every evening and like-minded guests from around the world to chat to, it’s easy to keep occupied – or just relax and watch the ever-changing scenery outside.

Daily Itinerary Knight Inlet Lodge BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Daily Itinerary Knight Inlet Lodge

The daily itineraries are well-organised into small groups which mean you get to know others but in a low-key way. Each day there are grizzly-bear viewing tours, up until August by boat and during the salmon season from Viewing Platforms over the river. These are the highlight of the stay and why most people come.

Bear watching boat Glendale Cove BC - photo zoedawes

Boat in the rain

Puttering out into Glendale Cove in the rain in a little boat in search of bears is one of the most memorable things you will ever do. The mist swirls around the shoreline, shrouding all like a scene from a Japanese woodcut. Sea gulls and herons perch atop barnacle-encrusted jetty posts or on half-sumberged rocks. Little ducks called marbled murrelets, described by our guide as ‘floating potatoes’, dive below the rain-pocked water and overhead a bald eagle swoops down onto its giant nest.

Glendale Cove in the rain BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Glendale Cove in the rain

Once the engine is switched off it’s the silence that enchants. Gradually the natural sounds of the Inlet come to the fore. The swooshing of waves as a pod of dolphins comes alongside for a quick play. Raindrops pattering on the roof of the boat and onto the surface of the water all around. The swirl of water as a curious sea-lion pops its head up to see what’s going on.

Sea lion in the rain Knight Inlet BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Sea lion in the rain

Then, on seeing a bear, you hear the crunch of its jaws as it munches its way through mussels and tiny shrimps on its endless quest to fill its stomach after months of hibernation. Of course, camera shutters click and videos whirr but you get so long to look, that eventually you know you’ve got enough photos and stop so you can enjoy this life-enhancing scene. The bears, used to humans watching them all day long, take little notice and go about their daily business oblivious to the pleasure they bring.

Grizzly Bear Cub looking for food on Knight Inlet shore BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Young Grizzly Bear on Knight Inlet shore

Yes, I’d have liked one more day to be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of sitting on the deck of the Lodge and watch the natural world go by for a few hours. We stayed for two nights and, though almost every minute was busy, including going ‘bear-tracking’ and on a fast boat cruise of Knight Inlet (find out more on my Bear Watching trip to British Columbia), I found the whole experience both absorbing and de-stressing. Being totally immersed in this ruggedly beautiful environment, far from the world of technology, sharing it with diverse wildlife, was a potent reminder of what really matters.

Henry David Thoreau quote - image zoedawes

Many thanks to everyone at Explore Canada and Destination British Columbia for an uplifting experience. Inspired to find out more? Discover more about Knight Inlet here and the delights of British Columbia.


A Digital Detox with bears Bc Canada - Pinterest Pin zoedawes

September 22, 2015

Grizzly Bear Watching at Knight Inlet, British Columbia

Grizzly Bear Watching at Knight Inlet, British Columbia
Bear Watching from boat Knight Inlet - BC Canada - Zoe Dawes

Bear Watching from boat Knight Inlet

Do you have any food on you? Chocolate, chewing gum, sweets? Please make sure you don’t have anything edible; bears have a very strong sense of smell.” We looked at each other in slight trepidation and patted our pockets to make sure we weren’t carrying something that might attract a hungry bear. The canopied, flat-bottomed boat inched slowly away from Knight Inlet Lodge and out across the narrow inlet. The guide scanned the opposite shoreline. Suddenly he whispered, “There’s one over there to our left. I’m going to take the boat a bit nearer. Keep very quiet and try not to make any sudden moves.” He then silently slipped over the back of the boat and gently pushed it closer to land. With mounting excitement, we peered along the shore, unable to distinguish between moss-covered rocks and what might be a bear. Then we saw it against the fir trees …

Grizzly bear Kinight Inlet - photo zoedawes

Grizzly bear

… a young male, maybe 3 years old, quite thin, with capucchino-coloured fur, making his way slowly through the sedge, seemingly unbothered by the boat only 50 metres away. He looked up as we started taking photos but was clearly used to curious humans and carried on eating. With a big furry paw, he turned over a heavy rock covered in moss and seaweed, searching for tasty morsels hidden underneath.

Grizzly bear cub turning over stones Knight Inlet - Zoe Dawes

Grizzly bear cub turning over stones

Crunch-crunch went his strong jaws as he munched on fresh mussels.  Water slooped against the side of the boat and the occasional cry of duck echoed through the valley, but otherwise the only sounds were the bear eating and shutters clicking as we tried to capture this moving sight.

Half an hour passed by quickly; it was almost hypnotic to watch this totally wild animal in its natural habitat going about its vital task of building up body mass after its winter hibernation, totally unbothered by the nearby watchers. His powerful shoulders rippled everytime he moved a stone or stood up on a log to get a good look around. Round ears twitched at any noise and his shiny black nose sniffed the air regularly but he was clearly unafraid. It was such a treat to be so close to one of this planet’s mightiest animals. Eventually the guide pushed our boat away, got back in and we went further round the cove to see if any other bears were about. They weren’t, but for a first day this sighting was more than enough.

Grizzly bear cub Knight Inlet Canada - photo zoedawes

Grizzly bear cub

My bear watching adventure had started earlier that morning in Campbell River, a small town on Victoria Island in British Columbia. We had left from a tiny airport aboard a seaplane, or ‘floatplane; as they are called in Canada. It set off at a sedate pace, sailing past shiny yachts and old boats, scattering swans with gay abandon. Trundling along the water, the plane had slowly gathered speed until it inched its way up into the sky. It soared above tree-clad mountains, over finger-like fjords and sun-reflected water, its engine rumbling loudly. The mountains got higher and a narrow river snaked its way though a grassy meadow.

Short video of our flight to Knight Inlet here

Our destination appeared below; a collection of blue-roofed buildings perched on the edge of dark green water. The little plane circled slowly down and came to a gentle landing on the calm water.

Knight Inlet BC from seaplane - photo zoedawes

Knight Inlet from the flight plane

We had arrived at Knight Inlet Bear Lodge, our floating home for the next three days.

Knight Inlet Bear Lodge BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Knight Inlet Bear Lodge

Eager hands helped us off the plane and the Lodge Manager Brian Collen explained how the timetable worked. We had to make careful note of a giant whiteboard which showed what activities we would take part in and with whom we’d be adventuring. After off-loading luggage in my cosy wooden cabin, we were shown the Changing Room with its vast array of bright red waterproof suits, wellies, binoculars and other equipment vital for an intrepid bear watcher. We had great fun helping each other into our Michelin-man suits, taking photos to capture our sartorial elegance.

Gary Bembridge and Zoe Dawes in waterproofs at Knight Inlet Lodge Canada

Gary Bembridge and me in our waterproofs

Our first activity was a scenic cruise in a high-speed boat ride from Glendale Cove out into Knight Inlet. Waterfalls thundered down craggy rocks, bald eagles kept watch from enormous nests, ancient glaciers loomed above deep turquoise waters. A lone whale came close and was gone in the blink of an eye. Myriad ducks dipped and dove in the wake of the boat and the sun glimmered through steely clouds, sending flashes of brilliance all around. So many shades of green and silver …

Knight Inlet waterfall British Columbia - photo zoedawes

Knight Inlet waterfall

Back at Knight Inlet Lodge, we sat down to a much-needed lunch from the buffet selection of fresh seafood, pasta, salads, fruit, chocolate desserts and a whole lot more. And then the moment I had been looking forward to so very, very much; my first grizzly bear watching boat trip. Donning different waterproofs we had boarded the little boat and sailed to the opposite side of Glendale Cove.

Knight Inlet Lodge, set amidst the Great Bear Rainforest, is surrounded by one of the biggest concentrations of grizzly bears in Canada. In the spring, when I visited, the grizzlies, along with some black bears, come out of hibernation and the females bring their cubs down the Glendale River. Here the bears, lean from months without eating, feed on the nutrient-rich sedge, grasses and crustaceans along the shoreline.

Grizzly bears Knight Inlet BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Young grizzly bears

From August onwards, many bears come to the Glendale river to feast on the salmon that spawn near the Lodge. But we were here on a Spring Watch visit, where, ‘ … you get remarkably close to some of these wonderful animals. Seeing them at eye level without disturbing them is a powerful experience. The spring season offers some of the year’s best photographic opportunities, with the grizzly bears moving about in a lush green environment with spectacular backdrops.’ Knight Inlet Bear Tours

Grizzly bear on log Knight Inlet BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Grizzly bear on log

After that first successful bear watching excursion, we enjoyed a delicious dinner. The food is excellent here; guests from around North America, Europe and especially the UK praise it highly. That evening we had a fascinating talk on the sex life of bears from one of the resident guides. Apparently female brown bears only come into season every  2-3 years; they don’t mate whilst their cubs are still with them, which can sometimes be for over 2 years. A long wait for the males, who may try to kill the cubs to get at the female. This is why the female bears around Knight Inlet are content to be nearer humans as they provide a shield for their young cubs from the predatory males.

Grizzly bear slide show Knight Inlet

Grizzly bear slide show

Over the next couple of days we went bear watching many times, in the early morning, the best time to see the bears, and later in the day. We saw at least 10 different bears including females and their cubs, a huge grizzly male standing up on its hind legs and a big black bear just feet from the Lodge. We had a close encounter with a pod of dolphins playing around our boat as they took a little detour on their way out to sea.

Dolphins at Knight Inlet BC - photo zoedawes

Dolphins at Knight Inlet

Pretty little hummingbirds flittered and whirred around sugar feeders on the Lodge jetty and swallows swooped over the water at the sun set. Curious seals and sea lions popped up to see what was going on. We watched as one of the guides pulled up a haul of crabs to be served up for dinner. We occasionally saw the two cubs who starred in ‘DisneyNature’s Bears’ movie; they are now 3 years old and foraging on their own.

DisneyNature Bears

By the time our flight plane arrived to take us back to civilisation, I really didn’t want to leave. I’d experienced something very special. Getting up close with the grizzly bears in the wilderness has left a lasting impression. Learning more about these much-misunderstood creatures from people who are passionate about their well-being and doing everything about their conservation was a valuable life-lesson. However, it’s the sound of a grizzly bear munching on fresh mussels that stays with me as a reminder of those precious few days in the Great Bear Rainforest …

Two young bears Knight Inlet BC Canada - photo zoedawes

Two young bears

‘In 2005, Knight Inlet Lodge, in partnership with Dr. Owen Nevin and the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, began a long term population study of the grizzly bears of Knight Inlet. We have successfully satellite collared a number of bears, allowing us the ability to track denning and range characteristics on their sub-population. We have gathered data that will help policy makers in making sound land-use and wildlife management planning decisions for the region that take into account the importance of the grizzly bear to the area. We are working unequivocally to ban the currently legal trophy hunting of grizzly bears in British Columbia. In the meantime, we have adopted innovative strategies of working with the hunting community to restrict trophy hunting in critical grizzly bear viewing habitat in coastal British Columbia. 

Knight Inlet Environmental Stewardship

Bear watching boat Knight Inlet BC - zoedawes

Looking for bears

More information about bear watching tours to Knight Inlet Lodge here. Many thanks to all the guides and staff for an exceptionally wonderful stay and also to Explore Canada for hosting our visit to British Columbia.

Knight Inlet Lodge and grizzly bear - photo zoedawes

Knight Inlet Bear Lodge


Bear-watching in British Columbia - image

Read more about bear watching in British Columbia from fellow travellers:

August 25, 2015

Enjoy 24 hours in Vancouver, Canada

Enjoy 24 hours in Vancouver, Canada
Art Deco Marine Building Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Art Deco Marine Building Vancouver

Quite possibly the most beautiful Art Deco building in the world is in Vancouver. The Marine Building was opened in 1930 and bought by the Guinness family. The walls are engraved with murals depicting sea travel through the ages and quirky ocean creatures. Above the revolving doors enormous Great Blue Herons (or Canada Geese?) fly off in opposite directions. At one time the tallest building not just in Canada, but the British Empire, it’s now, literally overshadowed by the many newer skycrapers that adorn the city.

Downtown Vancouver and Marine Building - photo zoedawes

Downtown Vancouver and Marine Building

I recently spent 24 hours in Vancouver, the urban heart of British Columbia; it could easily have been a week. Here are 10 things to do in Vancouver, especially if you enjoy getting a real feel for the place you stay in.

24 hours in Vancouver

 1. Hop on a Hop-Off Tour bus

View of Vancouver Public Library from Tour Bus - photo zoedawes

View of Vancouver Public Library from Tour Bus

One of best ways to see any city is to take a tour bus. There’s usually a good commentary giving a potted history of the place and you can orientate yourself easily before setting off on foot. With stops all over Vancouver you can spend as much or as little time as you want in each place. I got the  West Coast Sightseeing Hop On, Hop Off Bus and, as I had limited time, stayed on it for the whole ride – about 2 hours. I picked it up near my hotel, The Burrard, in downtown Vancouver and it trundled all round the city, including Yaletown, Gastown, Chinatown, Coal Harbour, Granville Island and Stanley Park. I fell in love with vibrant Vancouver from my seat on the bus …

2. Stroll around round Stanley Park

Stanley Park Rose Garden Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Stanley Park Rose Garden

Rhododendrons flower in spring and in summer the sensuous scent of thousands of roses wafts through the air. Surrounded by water on almost all sides, Stanley Park is a 1000 acre delight. There’s a 9km Sea Wall path which attracts joggers, cyclists and walkers as well as many trails through the ancient rainforest. A group of enormous Totem Poles proclaim the city’s First Nation heritage and at nearby Hallelujah Point, the Nine O’Clock Gun has boomed out every evening since 1894. The most popular family attraction is the Vancouver Marine Science Centre, with over 70,000 sea creatures from the Amazon to the Arctic, including beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters, turtles, sealions and crocodiles. There are stupendous views from Prospect Point and beaches all round.

Inukshuk sculpture by Alvin Kanak Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Inukshuk sculpture by Alvin Kanak

3. Explore the origins of industrial Vancouver in Gas Town

GastownSteamClock Vancouver LeonardG

Photo LeonardG

Ever seen a steam clock? No. neither had I until I came to Vancouver. Well, in Gas Town, you can see one. It looks Victorian but was actually put up in the 1970s. Every hour it tootles out the Westminster chimes and sends up jets of steam. Gas Town was the site of the original industrial development in the 1800s; timber and the ease of access to the waterways of Canada ensured its success. There are plenty of older buildings which contrast to the glassy skyscrapers, some great bars and cool restaurants plus lots of independent shops to browse around.

4. Get a flavour of Vancouver on a foodie tour

Fancy a huge plate of burritos and banana bread for breakfast? Or maybe a smoothie made from freshly-cropped microgreens? The best chocolate chip cookies in Canada (allegedly!)? Vancouver is a city that loves its food. I don’t mean likes its food, I mean LOVES its food. From exquisite Chinese dim sum via fresh local seafood, Italian pizzas to hearty steaks, food is the tasty key to Vancouver living.

Fresh oysters and seafood at Boulevard Oyster Bar Vancouv

Fresh oysters and seafood at Boulevard Oyster Bar

I can highly recommend taking a food tour with Jenn from Tours by Locals. She took us on a two-hour romp from breakfast to lunch across downtown Vancouver. We filled up on a huge selection of Mexican-inspired dishes served by delightfully camp Patrice at the wonderfully OTT diner Elbow Room Cafe. This was followed by a tasting of organic fruit and vegetable juices at achingly cool Krokodile Pear. Most bizarre yet compellingly modern was the scifi looking Urban Cultivator where rows of fridges produce ‘microgreens’ which are made into a huge variety of smoothies including Garden of Eden and Morning Sun. We ended up in at the Musette Cycle Caffe which serves excellent light lunches and snacks, including these scrumptious chocolate chip cookies.

Vancouver Musette Cycle Cafe chocolate chip cookies - photo zoedawes

Musette Cycle Cafe chocolate chip cookies

5. Get on your bike

Cycle City Tours Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Cycle City Tours

Well, maybe not yours but there are plenty of cycle hire shops around the city and it’s very easy to get about. If you have a guide book and a map, just take off and peddle, secure in the knowledge that is probably the most bike-friendly city in Canada. There are many bike lanes and everyone seems generally courteous. I went on a Cycle City Tours bike ride with fellow travel blogger Lucy Dodsworth (read her account of Vancouver food and art here) and Sarah Sheehan from Destination BC.

City Cycle Tour Vancouver - photo zoedawes

City Cycle Tour Zoe, Lucy and Sarah

Our guide, co-owner Josh took us on a fascinating journey past the verdant Law Courts, Marine Building, via Canada Place and along the Waterfront. We stopped off a various places to admire the intriguing public art and take in the ever-changing harbour landscape. We passed the enormous Totems in Stanley Park and Josh showed us the Stanley Great Blue Heronry next to the tennis courts. Cycling beside English Beach we saw many people sunbathing and a few swimming and paddling. You can choose more strenuous routes or a gentle ride enjoying the ever-changing scenery.

Cyclist at English Bay Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Cyclist at English Bay

6. Look down on Vancouver

Seaplane tours Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Seaplanes in Vancouver Harbour

Seaplanes, or floatplanes, take commuters, business people and sightseers up, up and away at regular intervals. You can book a short flight by plane or helicopter above the bay or go much further. (I fulfilled a lifelong ambition when I took a return flight in a seaplane from Campbell River to Knight Inlet in the Great Bear Rainforest; stunning scenery en route and great fun taking off and landing on water.) If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground then you can get an overview, not just of Vancouver, but the whole country with a virtual aerial tour from coast to coast with FlyOver Canada.

7. Take a ferry, boat, zodiac or kayak round Vancouver Harbour

False Creek from Granville island Vancouver - photo zoedawes

False Creek and Aqua Bus

Vancouver Harbour is one of the loveliest in the world and the best way to see it is from the water. It’s a working waterway but has plenty of pleasurable ways to view it. I got the colourful little Aqua Bus over to Granville Island. Even on this very brief trip I saw a huge number of craft from speed boats departing to find somewhere to waterski, bigger ferries heading off around the coast, smaller ferries carrying passengers around False Creek, tour boats full of tourists hoping to see whales, yachts setting sail in the brisk breeze and plucky kayaks weaving in and out of all this traffic.  The biggest attraction is being able to see Vancouver’s impressive architecture from the water; gazing up at those fabulous sky-scrapers is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Join Kathryn Burrington to see even more of Vancouver.

8. Mooch about a Museum

Museum of Vancouver and Space museum - photo Bobanny

Museum of Vancouver – photo Bobanny

There’s a museum to suit every interest and all ages in Vancouver, from the world-renowned Museum of Anthropology, with its enormous collection of aboriginal artefacts housed within a sensational building, via the Police Museum, Koerner Ceramics, Bill Reid Rotunda, Neon Vancouver, Vancouver Art Gallery and Maritime Museum to the quirky Museum of Vancouver, with its iconic metal crab sculpture outside and superb collection tracing the history and culture of this part of British Columbia through thousands of objects and into the future with the HR MacMillan Space Centre next door.

9. Find a café and watch the world go by

Caffé Artigiano barrista Josh

Caffé Artigiano barrista Josh making perfect coffee

After all this sightseeing and culture, it’s good to relax. Vancouver loves its coffee and the cafes are more than a ‘culture’; they’re a way of life. This is no 9-5 city; it buzzes all day and night and the cafes are used to meet friends, have business meetings, as informal offices or somewhere to catch up on news. In the uber-cool Caffé Atrigiano, top barrista Josh (yes, popular name) creates a great cup of coffee (top quality fresh Arabica beans) whilst the beautiful people sip and chat.

10. Get a Vancouver City Passport

Vancouver Trolley Bus company - photo zoedawes

Vancouver Trolley Bus company

The Vancouver City Passport gives great discounts and free entry to many of the attractions, museums, galleries, eateries and tours mentioned here, as well as dozens of others. The guidebook has some useful info and background details on the experiences. It’s valid for 2 adults, cost $20 (at time of visit) and can save you loads of money and time.

Explore Canada media group Sandbar Restaurant Vancouver

Explore Canada media group Sandbar Restaurant Vancouver

I ended my 24 hours in Vancouver having a superb seafood meal with my fellow travellers at Sandbar Seafood Restaurant on quirky Granville Island. Not only is the food delicous and the staff friendly, the view from False Creek is an ever-changing portrait of this fun, funky, fantastic city which managed to steal my heart in just one day in late spring.

Vancouver Harbour British Columbia Canada - photo zoedawes

Vancouver Harbour BC Canada

Gary Bembridge shares more top tips for Vancouver here.  I was on a Travelator Media trip, staying at the quirkiliciously hip Burrard Hotel in downtown Vancouver as a guest of Destination Canada. Find out more about awesome British Columbia here.

Burrard Hotel garden Vancouver - photo zoedawes

Burrard Hotel garden

Add this exciting city to your bucket list NOW – you’ll love it.

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Top 10 Things to Do in Vancouver BC - photo zoedawes

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