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Adventures in British Columbia

Jules, one of our customized Travel Consultants, recently had her senses blown in British Columbia, Canada. From tasting the most delicious and fresh meals and waking up to the sound of wildlife to seeing some of the most stunning and vibrant vistas – it was a once-in-a-lifetime itinerary.

I thought I had cornered the market on outback and adventure experiences having lived in both Australia and Africa but Canada was an eye opener.  British Columbia has some of the most beautiful scenery be it their soaring mountains, fir clad hills, lakes of the brightest cobalt blues, huge skies, emerald shores hugging bleached white beaches running into a sea of aquamarine, turquoise and deep navy blue.  We saw whales, bears, the mighty bald headed eagles, fish and horses on our travels which saw us crossing this beautiful state by float plane, little planes, zodiac boats, cruisers and of course the trusty horse!

Vancouver is a magical city perched on the water between soaring mountains and the magical pine forests of Vancouver Island.  It’s a small city to walk around whether you visit the waterfront (a must to spend half an hour in the incredible Fly Over Canada simulation ride which was just amazing), take the little aquabus to Granville Island and walk around the magnificent farmers market to see the traders and antique dealers and enjoy the tour of Vancouver and its water suburbs from the sea-side rather than in a taxi!  There are wonderful shops on Robson Street and make sure you stop for a cocktail at Coast on Alberni Street (plus some other great restaurants here), or happy hour on the Waterfront at the Pacific Rim Fairmont bar.  Miku was a wonderful choice for the freshest of seafood down at the Waterfront and Yew at The Four Seasons a must for a meal.  We stayed at the Four Seasons and the Fairmont Pacific Rim and Fairmont Waterfront – all of which are in fantastic different areas to enjoy and explore downtown and the Waterfront.

Then started the true adventure with our Orca Airways flight up to Tofino from Vancouver Island and a quick transfer to The Wickaninnish Inn or The Wick to those in the know.  Charles McDiarmid’s father had the incredible perception to buy some of the most beautiful shoreline in Vancouver Island and start the dream of what has been added to and improved upon ever since – welcome to The Wick. Charles was no exception and he and his team have not only created a new wing of The Wick called the Beach House, with suites overlooking the gorgeous Chesterman Beach but has created The Pointe Restaurant along with On the Rocks Bar, a dreamy setting overlooking the magnificent Pacific Ocean with seabirds wheeling in the breeze, waves crashing up on the rocks and the golden expanse of Chesterman Beach stretching as far as the eye can see.  Framed of course by the ubiquitous local pines.

The food matched the view in every sense and we dined on the freshest of oysters, crab, halibut, morels, greens from their garden and every conceivable variation of what the sea outside had to offer in terms of the freshest of ingredients. A delight every time matched with some of the ever increasingly evolved wines of British Columbia.  Yuvi and his team made every wish possible from whale watching to somehow getting all our luggage back on the tiny Orca Airways flight (well outside our allowance) and Charles and Clare shared their history, stories from the wood carver on the beach to the artists’ paintings throughout the hotel – this is more than a hotel, it is a family run home in which you lack for nothing.  Waking up with the waves under our bedroom window and the wind soughing through the pines is an unforgettable memory to take back with us.  As was the sun setting over Chesterton Beach with the sea spray catching the streams of light through the misty air.

How anything could match this – but if I have learned one thing on travels like this – it is never to pre-judge anywhere.  Tofino is the sweetest little town and the next day we were taken down to the local dock where we met up with Eugene in the Clayoquot boat ready for our next adventure.  The soaring vista as we entered into Clayoquot Sound was completely different to our sweeping sea views.  Here, majestic mountains soared up covered densely in a cloak of green pines, some snow-capped against one of the bluest skies I have ever seen.  The water went from the deepest of indigo through turquoise, aquamarine, tourmaline, green and always so clear.  The voyage of about 40 minutes through the sound was almost like a journey through Fiords and just unbelievably beautiful.  Arriving at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort dock was in itself an incredible moment as we were transferred to a wonderful open carriage pulled by two draft horses up to the camp itself which is hardly a camp but more an eclectic mix of beautifully crafted tents filled with antiques, comfortable sofas, rugs, silver, fires everywhere and just the feeling of being invited into the ultimate outback home!

Their dining room and living room flanked by enormous stone fireplaces was built around a wonderful open kitchen where chefs used the freshest of local produce, meat and fish and shellfish to concoct dish after dish of mouth-watering genius. Cocktails on arrival with the most delicious canapés and sushi – were we really at the end of the world? Taken to our delightful tent was another eye opener, the potbellied heater in the corner could be turned up in a flash to keep the tent toasty warm. The bathroom had underfloor heating which was lovely to step back into once you had luxuriated under the amazing rain shower with more hot water than you knew what to do with, looking up at the soaring pines above you.  The loo was thoughtfully inside the bathroom so no nocturnal visits outside required! Comfortable huge beds, antique furnishings and a large outside deck overlooking the river made this a perfect combination of comfort and authentic outback accommodation – even hairdryers and electricity all discreetly hidden away!

This is another amazing example of ‘I had a dream’ – in this case the dream of Adele and John who came to the end of the Sound, took one look at the souring mountains and river and said – this is it.  Years later they have achieved the ultimate in luxury living, fabulous food and activities to keep you busy all day, so dropping into your comfortable bed after an amazing dinner sent you straight into the arms of Morpheus.

We were spoiled for activities but short on time so opted to try their amazing Spa and massage with views from the hot tubs to die for; the shooting and skeet (clay pigeon) target shooting and a whole day trip which they euphemistically call The Walk on The Wild Side.  You start off being kitted into the most wonderful suit which keeps you dry and warm on the zodiacs and then embark on the trip of a lifetime through sounds where we saw bears and baby bears shimming down trees, wolves padding along deserted fore shores, whales out in the open ocean where they take you to the homes of the Orca and Grey Whales.  Stinging spray, waves and wheeling sea birds all paint the backdrop to the islands full of huge sea lions, seals and hanging onto his raft of seaweed – the elusive sea otter.

Docking on a rocky outcrop we walked deserted beaches, at our picnic lunch on bleached benches of fallen pines looking out to sea and dreaming of the explorers and sailors who first saw this glorious land.  After a hike along a wonderful beach we were picked up by Eugene on our trusty zodiac and taken back into the sound where he threw lines and a lure over the boat, caught fish after fish (we had to throw back the ones that did not float!) which we then threw to the bald eagles who swooped down from their eyries high in the soaring Douglas Firs and mighty Cedars – an awesome sight.

Tired but happy after such an exhilarating day we were revived by the gin and tonics by the fire and fresh crab for dinner matched with some fabulous wine suggestions by Theresa their sommelier who is passionate about the wines of British Columbia and their evolvement over the last 5 years. A crab apple wine with our desert was truly amazing.

Sadly time was moving on in its inexorable way and we boarded our little boat again to fly back to Vancouver over some of the most awesome sounds, beaches, mountains, glaciers and scenery I have ever seen. In itself a must just for the view! Picked up the car in Vancouver which was painless – a quick shuttle from the South Terminal to the International/Domestic pod of the airport and traversing back through Vancouver we found ourselves in Whistler two or so painless hours later. Now we were back in the mountains and nestled under Blackcomb Mountain at The Four Seasons. As usual the combination of comfort, service, great dining room and Spa, atmospheric reception area and fantastic views make this a great hotel to stay in for both winter and summer vacations. We walked through Blackcomb village down to Whistler village through some very tempting shops, had some delicious cocktails and oysters at Araxi and then dinner back at the Four Seasons outside at Sidecut. A great courtyard venue and surprisingly warm for early June!

Now for another adventure – the legendary Siwash Lake Ranch I had heard so much about. The instructions were in keeping with another foray into the wilderness; the drive from Whistler was to take about four hours through mountain passes and crossing the mighty Fraser River through Fraser Canyon and then to call the ranch from 70 Mile House and say we were on the dirt road and approaching the last sector of our drive. It was a beautiful drive and one I would heartily recommend as the scenery is stunning and the road excellent. Driving along the dirt road for the last 45 minutes to Siwash Lake was our disconnection with the outside world. Beautiful forests, lakes, signs to watch out for the bears, deer crossing in front of us – all set the scene for our arrival at Siwash Lake Ranch.  How best to describe the reality which has grown from the dream of Allyson all those years ago when she rode up to the tree which now forms part of the front deck, looked out across the lake, set up her tent and decided this would be her piece of paradise. And paradise it is indeed. We were lucky enough to have one of the beautiful cabin/tents which had two generous bedrooms, a living room area, fully equipped bathroom with an outside shower, underfoot heating throughout and a massive deck looking out over the lake where you could sit and simply dream the hours away.

There are suites in the main house as well but there is something about waking up to the birds and your hot coffee and muffins being delivered onto your deck each morning that certainly makes me want to forgo four walls in exchange for my canvas home! Derek was the chef who took us foraging, teaching us how to find wild onions, delicious spruce tips for salad, wild strawberries and blue berries, mushrooms, wild mint and wild mustard – the fruits of the land are a constant delight to this man who concocted food that was simply delicious. Between the foraging and the wonderfully stocked greenhouse and potager, the farm is nearly fully sustainable and you could taste the freshness of the produce in the amazing meals conjured up by Derek and his team. Crab rolled in the finest of fresh apple slices marinated in his special secret aromas, steelhead trout caught off the coast by Allyson’s other half Roy on his fishing trips (fresh and home smoked), ham from their pigs, eggs from the hens – there was no end to the amazingly fresh and delicate food he produced for us and truly evolved dishes served up so far away from the downtown lights of the world of urban cuisine.

When we were not being fed delicacies by Derek we were fly fishing with Mike, adding to the trout menu that day, honing our archery skills with Kent out on their archery trail where various animals are dotted around the forest or riding out on their beautiful horses with Miranda. Around each corner was a constant surprise; a glacial lake with water so blue as to put aquamarines to shame, crater lake with its stunning waterfall where you often see moose by the water’s edge, meadows full of wild roses and the vibrant orange Indian paintbrush flowers, bright yellow arnica flowers, carpets of white foamy chickweed and fields of daisies and buttercups. The day we rode out and had a picnic lunch overlooking the magnificent Crater Lake, surrounded by the pine cloaked hills rising to a sky of cobalt blue is one I will never forget.  The beauty, the wind soughing through the pines, the smell of horse and well-oiled leather and simply being outdoors and one with nature away from the entire madding crowd.

There was internet but it was only allowed in a tiny corner of the library as Allyson believes quite rightly that between shooting, archery, riding, kayaking, swimming, fly fishing, yoga, hiking and her wonderful massage tent in the Spa area there is no need to hunch over an iPad!  Books are there, comfy sofas and chairs flank a huge fire in the ranch house, dogs loll on the deck overlooking the lake and reeds and ice cold wine comes with the beaming smile of Kelly, Rebecca and Erica who looked after our every need.  Before we even knew them it seemed……

Siwash Lake Ranch is somewhere to simply shut down, enjoy the best of the most simple things in life which are often the most difficult to create. It is a piece of paradise that would be perfect for a family, a honeymoon couple such as Mike and Bree who were there with us to create memories to last them a lifetime or just travelers like ourselves and Jan and Ron who had come from the UK to find a huge sky, an authentic piece of outback adventure with the comfort and great food that few places combine as well as Siwash. The last night under huge stars with the gentle snorting of contented horses in the distance was heaven and it was truly a huge wrench to leave. There is an amazing helicopter trip with Scott that we did not have time to do and for those doing the trip directly from Clayoquot, Dale is the pilot who flies you in his float plane for an hour as the crow flies over the mountain, stops for lunch on a glacier and then drops into the lake close by to Siwash – two quick hours from one piece of heaven to another.

So back over the passes, rivers and canyons to Whistler for the last part of the trip and a few days at Nita Lake Lodge.  Nestled on Nita Lake which it shares with five other houses is this charming hotel with 77 spacious suites overlooking this glorious lake or the surrounding mountains.  We were looked after by Theresa and her lovely team. The location is fantastic as it is out of Whistler so away from the hustle and bustle, a minute or two walk to the lifts of Creekside so you avoid the main queues at Whistler itself and yet a mere 7 minutes into the village with their brilliant shuttle. The views over the lake and mountains give it a feeling of peaceful tranquillity, eating dinner at their award-winning restaurant Aura on the patio overlooking the lake was such a treat. But this was the day to explore Whistler so we took off with the shuttle to the village, met the charming Leeanne from the tourist board who took us up the Whistler Gondola and then the stunning Peak 2 Peak lift from the top of Whistler mountain to Blackcomb which is the longest unsupported cable car stretch in the world – 200 meters of breath-taking engineering with incredible views in all directions. Lunching at The Roundhouse with 360 degree views was fantastic and I could imagine deep snow and blue sky ski days so easily replacing the bright June sunshine. Mountain bike frames had replaced every second chair lift so bikers could take the place of downhill skiers in the summer – Whistler has something for everyone.  Zip-wiring, mountain biking, three golf courses, white river rafting, bungee jumping, four by four jeep adventures and much more is on offer in this charming village along with the bobsleigh (on wheels) down the Olympic Bobsleigh course for the truly adventurous.

Great restaurants like Araxia and Hy’s along with many bars, shops and coffee places were humming as they were celebrating the last day of the ski season with everyone in fancy dress, mad costumes and beaming smiles – I love Whistler and would love to return when the emerald forests are cloaked in snow and Narnia replaces the summer. Note in diary – come back to this magnificent part of the world where we met so many wonderful people and experience so many wonderful things as there was so much left that we did not have time for.

For more information on Scott Dunn customized vacations to Canada, call one of our Consultants on 0203 603 3555 or visit scottdunn.com.

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