Victoria Butterfly Gardens

I had been wanting to go to the Victoria Butterfly Gardens for awhile now but we never seemed to have enough time when visiting the Island. This trip we factored in a bit of extra time and put it in the schedule. I’m glad we did.

We caught a morning ferry over to Swartz Bay and arrived at Butterfly Gardens not long after they opened. The building seems quite small from the outside, but inside it contains quite a lot. Just past the admission counter we explored the newly opened (January 2017) Insectarium. This area houses a collection of unusual looking and interesting insects. I was fascinated by the leaf cutter ant colony and seriously could have watched them working for hours.

Leaf Cutter Ants

Some of the other insects were camouflaged pretty well.

After moving slowly through the insectarium we entered the tropical Rain Forest area which houses the butterflies. I immediately noticed how hot and humid it was. I’d definitely recommend wearing layers when visiting. The change in temperature may cause your camera (or glasses) to fog up but there an anti-fog station right by the door to help visitors deal with this.

The Gardens were smaller in area than I expected, but they are large enough to spend time meandering around or even to just sit and watch the butterflies fluttering by.

Susannah just chilling with the butterflies

The educational component of the Gardens is really good and there’s plenty of interesting info to read while you walk through.

Signs tell you to watch where you put your feet and it’s good advice. I almost stepped on this pretty little guy.

Tailed Jay

They have 70 different species of butterfly. Me and my macro lens had a lot of fun!

Tiger (or Golden) Helicon
Brown Clipper
Giant Owl Butterfly
Mexican Sister

The Gardens has a variety of lush tropical vegetation and there is a waterfall at one end which runs into a pond. The pond contains fish and ducks and two resident flamingoes. There are also tortoises, parrots, frogs, iguana, and geckoes. All of the animals there are rescues, donations or adoptions.

Flamingo

Red Footed Tortoises

Victoria Butterfly Gardens is located in Brentwood, about 15 minutes drive from the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal or 30 minutes from Downtown Victoria. It’s only about 5 minutes from Butchart Gardens so it would be great to do both in one visit.  I would suggest allowing about 1-1.5 hours for the Butterfly Gardens and Insectarium, depending on how fascinated you are by small things.

The ticket prices may seem a little high for the size of the space, but no other place on the island offers the same experience and parking is free, so factor that in. I definitely felt it well worth a visit and if I were local I’d consider an annual pass which is just under the price of two visits.

Yale Historical Site

During a recent day trip to Hell’s Gate Airtram, we decided to stop at the Yale Historical Site.

With a modern day population of just a couple of hundred, it is easy to overlook small, sleepy Yale. But the town has a vibrant history.  In 1858 the discovery of gold nearby resulted in rapid population growth as 30,000 miners and business people flowed into the area. Yale boomed and quickly became the biggest town north of San Francisco and west of Chicago.

The Yale Historical Site is home to some restored buildings from the 1800’s. Creighton House was built in the 1870’s and now functions as a Museum, exhibiting a vast array of historical artifacts and photographs.

St. John the Divine Anglican Church was built in 1863 in hopes of taming wild miners, and is the third oldest church in BC.

St John the Divine, built in 1863

Historical events helped shape not only the town of Yale, but also the Province and the Nation. In 1871, after discussions at the Yale Convention the previous year, British Columbia became the sixth Province in the new Confederation of Canada, ending any chance of succession to the US.

The Canadian Pacific Railway was built in the 1880’s with construction headquarters in Yale. On-site, there is a monument to the Chinese Railway Workers – many of whom were killed during the railroad’s construction.

Outside the museum you will see “Tent City” in which you can glimpse what life may have been like for the miners and railway workers.

Tent City

You can also try out gold panning for yourself.

Goldpanning

The historical site itself is quite small, but contains a wealth of interesting artifacts and information. We really enjoyed our stop here and would recommend it in conjunction with a visit to Hell’s Gate Airtram. Yale is about a 2-hour drive from Vancouver and 20-30 minutes before Hell’s Gate so the two pair very well together. The Yale Historical Site helped set the scene for our trip to Hell’s Gate where we viewed the mighty Fraser Canyon from the perspective of history.

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.

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.