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Hidden Wonder

Canada #12 Brandywine Falls

We heard it long before we could see it.

The rushing water of Brandywine Creek, tumbling in a flurry of whitecaps under the little covered bridge, was the first indication of what was ahead.

Lush greenery surrounded us on the forest trail and, even when we lost sight of the water, the sound of its haste was always in the background.

We came to a railway crossing and, for a few seconds, our attention was diverted. These were not the unusual vehicles we’ve seen on train tracks.

A little further along the trail, our steps quickened in anticipation as we caught glimpses of what was to come.

All was revealed when, around the next bend, Brandywine Falls came into view. As the surging water of the creek reached the edge of an ancient lava flow, it plunged 70 metres to the base of the basalt cliffs before continuing on its way into the Cheakamus Valley.

No wonder we could hear the sound of the falls!

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From the Sea to the Sky

Canada #11 Sea to Sky Gondola

We were amazed by the statistics connected to the Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish on the Sea to Sky Highway.

For a start, it’s located between the third highest waterfall in British Columbia and the second largest granite monolith in the world. At Shannon Falls, water tumbling over the cliff edge drops 335 metres to the ground while, on the Stawamus Chief, rock climbers aiming to reach the 700 metre high summit resemble ants as they cling to the sheer granite wall.

Then there’s the gondola. As its name implies, the ride begins just 35 metres above sea level, at the northern end of Howe Sound. After a ten minute journey covering 1920 metres from Basecamp to the Summit Lodge, the gondola ride ends high on a rocky outcrop in the mountains, 885 metres above sea level.

From our shiny, green gondola we could see right around – up the mountains of the Coast Range and down to the blue waters of Howe Sound.

At the Summit Lodge, the sight from the viewing deck of the snow-capped Tantalus Mountain Range across the water was magnificent.

The Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, named after one of two nearby peaks, stretches for 100 metres over one of many narrow gorges between the ridges.

We stopped several times on the way across to the Spirit Viewing Platform as the scenery demanded our attention. Perched on the edge of the granite ridge, the platform offers grand views of both Sky Pilot and Co-Pilot Mountains. The rugged peaks were white with snow and dense forests of maples, cedars and Douglas firs covered the steep slopes.

The Spirit Trail, one of many walks in the mountains, begins at this platform.

The 400 metre circuit took us on a journey back to the days of the Squamish First Nation. From the information boards along the track we learned about the first people’s connection to the land and their use of the abundant natural resources in the forests. For them, the trees were the source of many household items. To us, they were simply beautiful.

With another glorious view at every turn, birdsong filling the air and the lush green of the forest surrounding us, we forgot about statistics.

The wonders of nature had taken their place in our thoughts.

Visit Jo for more Monday Walks.

Crossing Bridges

Canada #10 Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

We expected Capilano Suspension Bridge Park to be busy. It was peak holiday season and the weather was perfect, but our visit began very quietly. There were just a few passengers on the free shuttle bus and we didn’t have to queue at the ticket office. It wasn’t too busy at the Story Centre where we learned the history of the park and the famous bridge.

We soon found out where all the visitors were; the 137 metre suspension bridge spanning Capilano River Canyon was packed!

We had no concerns about our safety – the bridge is strong enough to hold 96 adult elephants. We weren’t keen though to join the slow shuffle of pedestrians making their way to the other side, so we decided to see the park from a different perspective.

Equally as thrilling and far less crowded, the Cliffwalk is a series of cantilevered walkways, bridges and stairs attached to the granite cliffs of the canyon.

We ventured down the spiral staircase and followed the narrow paths to wider platforms where nothing came between us and the river far below except clear glass floors.

On a circular bridge suspended 70 metres above the ground, we still weren’t as high as the treetops.

When the crowd on the suspension bridge had lessened we finally crossed over, going at our own pace and stopping every few steps to look down yet again into the canyon.

We spent more time looking down and up at the Treetops Adventure, where seven more bridges are suspended by adjustable non-invasive collars between eight Douglas firs. Even though at times we were 33 metres above the forest floor, we were dwarfed by the huge trees around us.

Back at ground level we followed the board walk past a leaf-littered lake, where the forest and the sky above were mirrored in the still water.

We were captivated by trees we’ve never seen before: the maples with their distinctive leaves and the firs, ornamented with miniature cones.

By late afternoon we were ready to leave and, after feeling pleased that we’d avoided the crowds for most of the day, reality returned – the last shuttle bus of the day was already full. We didn’t mind waiting for the city bus. We were happy to sit a while longer in this beautiful place.

Into the Blue

Canada #9 Victoria to Vancouver

To travel between Vancouver and Victoria, our options were either a plane or a ferry and, after a 14 hour flight from Brisbane to Vancouver, a ferry ride sounded like a great choice. The day we went to Victoria was grey and wet and the glorious scenery we’d looked forward to was shrouded in mist, so we were happy to sit inside and enjoy a warming coffee.

Our return journey was completely different. The sun sparkled on the water and snowcapped Mt Baker was beautifully framed by the bluest sky and ocean.

Even though there were many other travellers there was plenty of room on the outside deck – we didn’t sit inside this time.

The ferry left Vancouver Island from Swartz Bay and sailed past several small islands, across the Strait of Georgia to the terminal at Tsawwassen. The journey of 24 nautical miles took 95 minutes; we could relax and enjoy the spectacular views. The clear blue sky was reflected in the deeper blue of the ocean, both separated on the horizon by the dark lines of densely forested islands.

We saw watercraft of all shapes and sizes. There was no need to compete for space in this wide channel.

Another ferry passed, going where we had just been. Like us, the passengers were all out on the deck, making the most of the glorious day.

A Castle With No King

Canada #8 Craigdorrach Castle, Victoria BC

When Robert and Joan Dunsmuir began construction of their palatial mansion in 1887, they probably didn’t intend it to be known as a castle. But with its prominent position high above the city of Victoria, its imposing towers and ornamented gables, Craigdorrach Castle seems the perfect name for this imposing building.

Originally from Scotland, Robert Dunsmuir had several successful businesses in the second half of the nineteenth century. The fortune he made through coal, railways, shipping and timber was reflected in the lavish interior of the castle, including intricately detailed woodwork, beautiful stained glass windows and the latest modern conveniences of the time.

From the rooms on the fourth floor, including the tower high in the roof of the castle, the family enjoyed expansive views across Victoria and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympus Mountains in Washington State, USA.

Robert Dunsmuir never enjoyed the final result of his prosperity; he died in 1890 before the house was completed. Joan lived there with three of her daughters and two grandchildren until her death in 1908. Then the castle became a military hospital before being used as the site of Victoria College, the forerunner of the University of Victoria. After a third reincarnation as the Victoria Conservatory of Music, the castle was preserved as a museum.

First opening to the public in 1969, Craigdorrach Castle is now a Designated National House Historic Site. Every year, more than 140,000 people come to see the castle, experiencing for themselves the luxurious surroundings Robert Dunsmuir never did.

A Sandwich With a Difference

Canada #7 Canoe Brewpub, Victoria BC

If you’ve heard about #Kevtoberfest, you’ll know Glen enjoys a beer or two but I’m not so keen. When Glen wants to try a new brewery, I’m happy to go along and usually I enjoy a cider or a hot chocolate. Sometimes if there’s cake on offer I’ll have that too.

At the Canoe Brewpub on Victoria’s Upper Harbour, Glen enjoyed a Helles Bavarian-style lager and an Amber Ale. After a long afternoon walk I was ready for something more substantial than hot chocolate, but there was no cake to be seen. Luckily our friendly barman Steve came to my rescue.

“We serve dessert. I recommend the ice cream sandwich,” he said. He went on to describe it – ale ice cream sandwiched between an oversize choc chip biscuit with chocolate porter sauce on the side.

Ale-flavoured ice cream? Chocolate sauce infused with beer? I queried the beery taste thinking it might be too strong, but Steve was reassuring. “A few of my customers say the ice cream tastes too much of beer, but I think the subtle flavours are just right.”

I couldn’t ignore his recommendation – with crossed fingers, I ordered the ice cream sandwich. I needn’t have worried; it was delicious! The ice cream, tangy with a hint of malt, was perfectly complemented by the sweet biscuit. The chocolate porter sauce was thick and rich, and I made sure to scrape every last drop from the little jug.

Ever since our afternoon at the Canoe, I’ve been thinking about their tasty ale-flavoured ice cream. The good news is that as well as having a complete beer-brewing set-up, Glen also owns an ice cream maker! Does anyone have a recipe for ale ice cream?

 

I Like Your Office!

Canada #6 Butchart Gardens Boat Tour

Meet Mark.

Four years ago, he moved to Vancouver Island for a break from his demanding city job. Smiling broadly as he welcomes us, Mark says “I came for a year and never left.” These days he comes to work at Tod Inlet, where his office is a little electric-powered boat.

Mark takes visitors on guided tours from Butchart Cove past Gowlland Tod Provincial Park to the edge of Brentwood Bay. The inlet, sheltered by dense stands of arbutus, garry oaks and douglas firs, is a haven for wildlife and with Mark’s expertise to guide us we see plenty.

An inquisitive seal surfaces for a just a few minutes and watches us watching him, before disappearing again. Egg yolk jellyfish and moon jellyfish drift silently by, going where the current takes them. High above, a bald eagle surveys the scene as if he rules this part of the world.

Mark talks about the Butchart family and fondly describes them as “people of vision and values”. The remnants of their cement factory are almost hidden in the forest, but in the water old timber pilings remain. They’ve been repurposed – bird boxes placed on top house the growing population of purple martins who migrate from Brazil each summer.

We cruise a little further, rounding the bend into Brentwood Bay. Here we see beautiful homes on the hills and can only imagine living every day with a view as amazing as this. Mark turns the boat and idles for a while, pointing across the water to the mountains in the distance. “This is true BC scenery,” he says and we can hear in his words his passion for this place.

We’re sorry when our 45 minute tour comes to an end and, before we return up the hill to the busyness of Butchart Gardens, we linger on the jetty. Like Mark, we would love to stay much longer.