Salt Spring Island Getaway

Looking for a relaxing getaway not too far from Vancouver? Try Salt Spring Island – we did, and it was wonderful!

Salt Spring Island is one of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. It is accessible by ferry, but we traveled by Sea Plane for a different perspective. The flight with SaltSpring Air was great and we had fantastic weather so got to see some amazing scenery.

Flying over the Gulf Islands

The flight only took about 35 mins from Downtown Vancouver and landed at picturesque Ganges Harbour, just a short walk from our hotel.

We had informed the hotel of our arrival time so they sent someone down to the dock to meet us. We had arrived several hours in advance of our check in so we opted to send our bags on ahead and explore a bit on our own.

First stop – quaint little Tree House Cafe for some breakfast!

It’s actually a heritage cottage but is enveloped by greenery

After fueling up we set off on a walk to the other side of the island. It was lovely and quiet, but a bit further than we expected so we were pretty knackered by the time we returned and checked in at the beautiful Hastings House.

Our Hillside Suite, overlooking the Harbour, was gorgeous and well-equipped. Also incredibly private and quiet!

The Privacy Dog hung on our door

We were also very hungry which was good because we were booked in at the Fine Dining Room for dinner. The dining room is set in the historic Manor House, and the Fine Dining is a must experience while visiting Salt Spring Island.  It’s famous for Salt Spring Island lamb, but being non-meat eaters we opted for seafood options.

Wild Salmon with Shaved Fennel
Albacore Tuna and Potato Salad
Wild Pacific Halibut

After a scrumptious dinner and impeccable service we returned to our room to find a couple of bunnies on the bed – a nice touch for Easter.

The next morning we woke and enjoyed some coffee on the patio, surrounded by birds and trees before heading to the dining room for breakfast.

Coffee on our patio

We decided to explore the grounds a bit so checked out the view of the harbour and the property’s gardens.

While strolling in the garden we saw little “bugs” whizzing through the air making a buzzing sound. These “bugs” turned out to be hummingbirds and we discovered that feeders had been hung throughout the garden. We grabbed our cameras and found a spot to watch and record them. It was amazing. We had planned on going shopping, but both Susannah and I found the tiny birds absolutely mesmerizing. We watched for about 1.5 hours and enjoyed it so much that we returned the next day for more viewing!

Hummingbirds are super fast and can fly in any direction which makes them hard to photograph. I recommend a very fast shutter speed if you want to stop them in midair. Here are a few shots.

This little lady only stopped for a split second
Hummingbirds can beat their wings about 80 times a second

See my full gallery of Hummingbird photos here.

Here’s a short video to show you just how speedy they are.


That evening we wandered Downtown and enjoyed another amazing dinner, this time at Auntie Pesto’s which is located in the  Ganges Village right by the water. The meal was outstanding and again we sampled local produce and fresh seafood. So good!

Our last morning came too quickly. We had a few hours before our flight so we decided to stroll through the fields and along the sculpture trail at the edge of the grounds. It’s a short walk but has some cool sculptures as does the Hastings House property itself.

There are a ton of things to do on Salt Spring Island – lots of artisans and workshops, health and wellness retreats (Hastings House has a spa on site), and adventure activities. We went with no definitive plan and although interested in many activities and sights, we basically stayed in the Ganges Harbour area. The Hastings House Country Hotel property is vast and quiet and we found our getaway there to be just what we were looking for. We had such a slow paced, relaxing time – I think it is fair to say that neither of us wanted to go home.

Us looking very chill after the weekend away

Once again we were treated to a lovely SaltSpring Air scenic flight home. It was awesome to be so close and arrive home so stress-free.

Flying back into Vancouver

I’d definitely recommend Salt Spring Island for a few days away. Check out this website for everything you need to know about Salt Spring and plan your own Island getaway.

VanDusen Botanical Garden

One of my favourite places to visit in Vancouver is the VanDusen Botanical Garden. The garden is open year round and there is something to see in any season. Different areas are designed to flourish at different times of the year giving the garden a fresh look each time you visit.

Spring is my personal favourite. I love the fresh green of new growth, the colourful spring flowers, and the soft light.

Also, if I’m lucky, I get to see ducklings and goslings – super cute!

Sleepy time
Mama keeping an eye out

After entering the Garden we always beeline towards the far edges of the grounds then work our way back. It’s a large Park and there’s a lot to see with different vegetation starring in each season. The Garden has good maps and info on what to look for and what is peaking at any time. Check out their bloom calendar.

There are sculptures dotted around the grounds and a hedge maze with a Monkey Puzzle Tree at it’s centre – good fun for young and old.

My sister Kristine and bro-in-law Hamish succeed in the maze
Sculptures are throughout the Garden

HINT:  VanDusen has a lovely café but on a sunny day I recommend packing a lunch and bringing a picnic blanket. There’s ample space to stretch out and relax. Special events such as the Sakura Days Japan Fair in April or the Festival of Lights in December are super crowded, but most regular days if you walk away from the entrance to the right or the left you’ll soon get away from the crowds.

A busy day with the Annual Plant sale at VanDusen
A quieter spot

VanDusen Garden is located on Oak Street at West 37th Avenue. They have a good sized free parking lot, but if there is an event on I’d recommend driving past the entrance and making the next right-hand turn as you’ll usually find street parking there.

The Garden is not pet-friendly so leave your four-legged friends at home.

Susannah (right) and I enjoying a late afternoon visit

VanDusen is a great place for photography.  I love capturing the beautiful colours in different light. For photography, you can get nice photos on any camera  – the photos shown here range from DSLR to point and shoot. One suggestion I’ll make is to vary your angles and viewpoints – go high, go low, zoom in, go very wide – changing your point of view can add an interesting element to the images.

The Formal Rose Garden

Keep your eyes open – you never know what you’ll see.

Dragonfly

Have you been to VanDusen Garden? What is your favourite part?

Hiking Capilano Canyon from Cleveland Dam

This 2.6km hike in the Capilano Canyon is great if you want a nice walk, nothing too tricky and/or something that is dog-friendly. The trail begins at the Capilano dam and is a circuit so can be done either clockwise or anti-clockwise. Bear in mind, both ways you’ll head downhill first which will mean some uphill on the way back. The elevation gain is only 100m and the trail is good so it’s not too challenging. There are also a few cross trails if you want something even shorter.

The Cleveland Dam, at the head of the Capilano River in North Vancouver, supplies much of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland’s drinking water. When the dam’s gates are open it’s super exciting to stand on the bridge above and see and hear the torrent of water rushing down the spillway into the river.

To do the hike anti-clockwise, cross the bridge and look for the Upper Shinglebolt Trail. Follow it until you reach a fork in the trail and then turn left. From that point, follow the trail a short way to the Pipe bridge and head across. This part of the trail follows the river so you’ll be treated to some great views no matter what the weather.

On the East side of the river, look for the Coho Loop Trail to the left. Follow it until you reach the salmon hatchery interpretive centre. There are some really cool displays at the center where you can see and learn about the life cycle of salmon. Check out the fish ladders where, depending on the season, you may even see salmon jumping as they head upstream to spawn.

After you leave the hatchery, look for the Palisades Trail to the left. Follow it back up until you hit the service road and then continue up the road until you find yourself back at the dam.

The round trip takes between 1 and 2 hours depending on your speed and how long you spend at the hatchery. I could watch fish jump for hours so I would allow extra time for that. There is a parking lot by the reservoir and the park can also be reached by transit. I highly recommended the Cleveland Dam-hatchery loop as a good starter hike or a regular walk. It’s locally popular so can be quite busy but the people you meet are friendly.

Check out a trail map here.

Hiking to St Mark’s Summit

The St Mark’s Summit hike is an 11km round trip, with 460m elevation and some challenging terrain. The views along the way are amazing but nothing can prepare you for the vistas over Howe Sound from the Summit itself.

The trail to the Summit can be accessed from the Cypress Mountain Downhill parking lot. Head North towards the chairlift and look for signs for the Howe Sound Crest Trail. St Mark’s Summit is 5.5km along the Howe Sound Crest Trail which runs 30km from Cypress Mountain to Porteau Cove.

The Trail begins as gravel but after some time will become a myriad of tree routes and steep switchbacks. Watch your feet carefully. As a novice hiker I found this trail quite challenging and took many short stops to rest. Happily, there are many places where it’s worth stopping to admire the view.

Trees on the side of the trail, Cypress Mountain, Vancouver BC

When you reach the first trail map board look for an opening in the forest to your right. You’ll see a magnificent view of the Lions.

The Lions from Cypress Mountain

There are several peek-a-boo views of the Sound along the way.

View from the trail, Cypress Mountain, Vancouver BC

When you reach St Mark’s Summit you’ll see a marker pole on the trail itself. Turn to your left and scramble up the rocks. From the numerous viewpoints at the edge of the ridge you’ll get incredible vistas of Howe Sound. What makes the scenery even more spectacular are the sheer drop-offs, as the cliffs seem almost vertical, really emphasizing their height.

View over Howe Sound from St Mark's Summit, Vancouver BC

Along with the views, you’re likely to see some wildlife. There was a family of ravens checking us out as we rested at the top.

Raven

Along with a couple of curious chipmunks.

Chipmunks

After about an hour at the top, we began to make our way back. About 2/3 of the way down we came across a tree trunk where previous hikers had marked their passing by stacking small rocks. We each added a rock to the pile to acknowledge the trail before continuing on our way.

Rock pile, Inukshuk

By the time we arrived back at the carpark it was dusk and the temperature had dropped significantly. Although it was a really hot day and we wore T-shirts hiking, we were prepared for the weather to change. Given the mixed terrain and the mountain’s elevation, I’d recommend being fully prepared when tackling this hike. Take plenty of water, warm clothes, a first aid kit and bug spray.

This hike could take anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on fitness, speed and how long you stay at the top. Don’t rush it, it’s worth hanging out at the Summit awhile where you will literally feel on top of the world. I did this hike on my birthday in September and couldn’t think of a better place to be.

Visiting Prince Rupert, BC

In a couple of earlier posts I talked about our scenic trip from Smithers to Prince Rupert on Via Rail and our incredible Bear Watching Trip in Prince Rupert. Apart from these obvious highlights how was our stay in Northern BC?

Our flights Vancouver to Smithers and then Prince Rupert to Vancouver were on Hawkair. We really enjoyed the flights and the customer service was excellent, particularly in Prince Rupert where the staff was very friendly.

Fun fact: Prince Rupert airport is located on Digby Island which is only accessible by ferry. Hawkair provided a shuttle bus from their Prince Rupert office which included the ferry so we had no problem getting there but we highly recommend you factor travel time into your itinerary.

Travel hack: like many small airlines Hawkair charges you for every checked bag, small or large. Susannah and I each packed a small suitcase but as we were charged by the bag it would have been more economical to pack together in one larger suitcase. Overall, Hawkair was awesome and I’d totally fly with them again.

Susannah waiting for the airport shuttle

While in Prince Rupert we stayed for two nights at the Eagle Bluff B&B which is a great looking, very popular, quirky little B&B, centrally located and right on the water. We did have the top floor Lighthouse room booked but there was a booking mix-up and we were put in a much lower value room with two single beds for the first night. The room itself was a bit cramped. For a solo business traveler or two close friends it would be ok, but it is a bit pricey for what you get. You know what they say though…..location, location, location…..this B&B certainly has a fabulous spot.

Susannah’s sister Liz, who joined us from Smithers, stayed at the Crest Hotel which was within walking distance. Rather than spending the evening in our room, we went to Liz’s hotel and shared a bottle of wine and some delicious appies at Charley’s Lounge, the in-house bar.

The next morning we were up early and had a delicious home cooked breakfast before heading off on our incredible bear watching trip. When we returned we were able to move into the Lighthouse room for our second night. Was the upgrade worth it? Yes. Here’s a timelapse of the sunset view which we enjoyed over a glass of wine.


The next morning’s breakfast was again abundant and fresh.  From conversations at the breakfast table, it seems that this B&B gets a lot of regular customers.  The host seemed to know our two breakfast companions quite well.

Overall I’d say that The Eagle Bluff B&B has a great location and the views are awesome. Be sure to get the Lighthouse room though as it is the bee’s knees of B&B rooms and, in my opinion, worthy of the price tag.

Other things that were cool about Prince Rupert:

Smile’s Cafe had really really good fish and chips. I’d  recommend it but be patient, the service is a little slow. The food was absolutely worth the wait.

Cowpuccino’s Coffee House serves really good coffee. We didn’t eat there but the food looked pretty good also and the service was friendly.

Susannah Cow and Liz Cow outside Cappuccino’s Coffee House

Prince Rupert seemed to have a cow theme going on.

Liz, Susannah and I chill out on a "cow-ch"
Liz, Susannah and I chill out on a “cow-ch”

I have to say, I really enjoyed our time up North. If you are looking for an escape from the city and a little adventure, Prince Rupert should be on your list.  I know would definitely visit again.

Thanks to Hawkair, Prince Rupert Adventure Tours, and Liz and Bill for making this trip possible.

Bear Watching in Prince Rupert

Ok I won’t lie. When we decided to go up North I knew that the bear watching excursion was going to be the highlight of my trip. Coming from New Zealand where there are NO BEARS (actually there are NO predatory animals PERIOD), even the thought of encountering a bear scares the bejeezes out of me. Yet as a photographer I am in awe of them and definitely wanted to see them in their natural environment.

On our trip to Prince Rupert, we were fortunate enough to be hosted by Prince Rupert Adventure Tours for our bear watching excursion. As our awesome B&B was right on the water’s edge, we were able to walk down to the dock after breakfast to check in and board. The vessel is able to accommodate 100 passengers and despite being fully booked, including a large boisterous school group,  I have to say that it did not seem too crowded and everyone was able to get a good viewing spot. Everyone was very accommodating and looked out for each other despite language and age barriers so that was pretty cool.

The Grizzly Bear Tour motors through the Chatham Sound for about 1.5 hours in order to reach the Khutzeymateen Valley, which is not reachable by land. On the way we saw some fantastic scenery and plenty of wildlife to look for. We saw lots of seabirds and a cluster of seals sunning themselves on some rocks.

Great scenery in Chatham Sound BC

Once in the Khutzeymateen area the Captain and crew use binoculars to look out for bears. Patience and complete silence is the key to good viewing as the Captain will pilot the vessel up as close as he/she can without disturbing the animals. The schoolkids turned their volume right down and everyone was very respectful. There were about 3-4 kids who stayed out on deck the entire time, pointing out wildlife and speaking in whispers. Can anyone say “Future Marine Scientists”?

I loved that this was an eco tour and that the impact on the bears was minimal. There was one occasion on our trip where we saw a young bear and approached but the Captain chose to pull away and move on as the bear seemed agitated, perhaps sensing our presence. As much as I wanted some bear shots, I am happy that the correct ethical decision was made for the animal. We remained a reasonable distance from the shore at all times – all of the shots here are taken with a telephoto lens.

We saw several bears and were able to observe them for some time. They were much skinnier than I had imagined they would be. As it was Spring they would have only recently woken from hibernation. Once awake they move down to the coastline to feast on the lush green grasses that grow near the water’s edge, giving them the vitamins and nutrients they need to kick-start their metabolisms.

Check out the claws on this one! Very glad I was on a boat and well off-shore.

To be able to view an animal in nature without negatively impacting on it’s environment is simply awesome! The excursion was, as expected, an amazing highlight of our trip and an adventure that I would totally recommend. It was also a very long day (6 hours) and many of us were dozing inside on the way back to Prince Rupert, myself included. Once we neared the port the Captain and crew had another treat for us. They threw animal fat high into the air at each side of the boat and within minutes we were surrounded by about 30 eagles diving and grabbing the food with their talons. They were fantastic to watch and an exciting end to a great day.


Many thanks to Prince Rupert Adventure Tours for such a wonderful trip. It was awesome. We’ll be back 🙂

So that my bear story, tell me yours!

Smithers to Prince Rupert by Train

We were lucky enough to spend a few days touring a very beautiful part of Northern BC. Our plan was to fly into Smithers, spend a few days catching up with some of Susie’s family; her awesome sister Liz and her husband Bill, then take a train to Prince Rupert, enjoy some activities there and fly back to Vancouver.  In this post I’ll talk about the middle part of our trip –  from Smithers to Prince Rupert on the ‘Skeena’ train.

Skeena Train

The train runs from Jasper to Prince Rupert and back 3 times a week, stopping overnight in Prince George. From Smithers, it’s a scenic 6-hour ride to Prince Rupert. The route runs alongside the Skeena river through glacier-capped Coast Mountains and it is very picturesque. We opted for a “touring class” tickets which enabled us to sit in the Panorama car where we had sweeping views on both sides. We could also sit in the Park Car which is raised up higher and has a glass-domed roof for even more expansive views.

A complimentary meal is included in the touring class fare.  We chose the salmon and the halibut. The salmon was a bit dry so the halibut was the winner with the tomato sauce to keep it moist. Neither meal would be considered high-end but compared to most airplane meals I’ve had they were ok.

Dinner also came with a glass of wine which made everything ok 😉 Cheers.

Our two very funny and knowledgeable guides/servers kept most of the passengers well-informed and entertained. They showed us points of local interest which we may otherwise have missed like this miniature town at the side of the tracks.

And this petroglyph on the cliff face.

We sat on the left side of the train to get access to the riverside views but the train was not very full so we were easily able to move around and check out both sides. There are windows between the cars that can be opened right up. We leaned out for a few unique shots but I’d recommend being very careful doing it. It got pretty windy as well.

There were some long tunnels along the way.

Trains are fun and a bit of a different perspective than you’ll get from a car. You can see from the next photo how much higher up than the road we were. This was great for taking photos along the way to capture some of the views.

Here’s the view from the back of the train.

As we were moving through the Coastal Mountains towards the Ocean the weather was quite changeable, making the skies and light quite varied and interesting.

As we finally drew into Prince Rupert we were welcomed by an amazing sunset to end our long day of travel. So pretty!

Overall I’d say the price of the touring class ticket could be a bit steep for many people, but if you were only going to do the trip once, it’s a very comfortable way to travel and the bonus is most definitely the panoramic windows and the spectacular BC scenery which is not to be missed.

We really enjoyed the experience and would love to do the full journey from Jasper to Prince Rupert with Via Rail to see the Rockies as well.

The Story of Old Bags, New Tricks!

Old Bags, New Tricks…

What kind of name for a blog is that, I hear you ask? Well, here’s my story.

I left my home country, New Zealand, 20 years ago. My plan, like so many Kiwis, was to work abroad for 1-2 years, then travel for awhile before making my way home.

Life had other plans for me. I began my journey in Kyoto, Japan, and loved the lifestyle, the culture and the food (oishii!). One year turned quickly into 6 and I’m sure people wondered if I would settle there.  Then I met Susannah (Canadian, eh!) and my plans changed again.  I was smitten and of course thought nothing of moving across the world to Canada with her. Hey, I was still young!

14 years later, here we are, living and working as photographers and videographers in beautiful Vancouver BC.

I am now well into my 40s and Susannah is a few years older. Neither of us has followed a “normal” or “traditional” path in life. We have been self-employed for most of our time here. We don’t own a home and we don’t have kids. We live very much in the now.

Over the last few years, I think we have both felt the effects of society’s ageist attitude towards what life “should” be like for people of our age. I have also struggled with some recurring physical problems which have impacted our life (more about that later).

I have learned many things and I have much more to learn. But what constantly holds true for me is the saying “you are only as old as you feel”. My version of it is “you are only as old as you think!” The mind has great power.  For me that means it is never too late to challenge myself, to try new things and open my mind to new possibilities and experiences.

Old Bags, New Tricks is about rejecting negative attitudes towards aging. Susannah and I love life’s adventures and we try to find a positive in each experience. We’ll be sharing some of our lifestyle and the new and exciting experiences we have in this blog. We hope you will enjoy them with us.