Share this page:
Follow Choice on Social Media:
Get the most out of life


Canada: by seaplane and skytram

The big nine-cylinder Pratt & Whitney engine up front turns over and fires up with a reassuring roar. My pilot, Sean, lets the seaplane drift away from the pontoon as he warms up the engine.

We taxi a short was into the harbour then, throttles opened, we skim across the water and the six-seater de Havilland Beaver is airborne. I'm flying in a design classic- this aircraft is more than 50 years old but is so rugged and so perfect for the job it's doing that no-one has been able to improve on it yet.

It obviously has all the modern avionics but the air frame follows the design that first came off the drawing board in 1947.

The take-off was so smooth and we are soon banking to the left with all the sights of Vancouver, British Columbia, spread out before me. The cruise terminal is busy with three liners docked and, from the air, you release how much water surrounds Vancouver. We fly over Lion's Gate Bridge and out over the Strait of Georgia and turn left over some very expensive waterfront houses.

This is a sightseeing trip- the weather isn't perfect but the next day I'm boarding the Rocky Mountaineer for my two-day trip of a lifetime, taking the luxury train across the Canadian Rockies which I covered in last month's Choice. If you travel to the West Coast of Canada for the Rocky Mountaineer, it makes sense to add on a couple of days in Vancouver- it's a great city- and a few days at the other end travelling the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise up to Jasper.

I'm staying in the centre of Vancouver at the Four Seasons, with so much of this wonderful city within walking distance. To get my bearings within walking distance. To get my bearings I start with the Vancouver Lookout, the iconic tower with a 360-degree observation deck, 550ft above street level.

The views are great and it stays open into darkness so that you can take in the nighttime views of Vancouver.

Close to the waterfront I get an overview of the shoreline and plan my waterside walk to Stanley Park. Staying on the Seawall Greenway, I pass the Seaplane Terminal, Coral Harbour with its marina and the Vancouver Rowing Club. I head for the Aquarium in the Park; it's brilliant- I see jellyfish like they're on a day release from a David Attenborough documentary.

Sea lions are playing in the outdoor pool but, best of all, the atmosphere is relaxed, you can take your time, take your pictures, get some lunch.

I walk back into town along West Georgia Street and turn right down Howe Street to the Vancouver Art Gallery. It's hosting a Monet exhibition with some of his major works. I don't know if he was blind or just a genius (perhaps a combination of the two) but I really like his pictures. The gallery is busy but once again relaxed- I think some of he UK jobsworths could learn a thing or two from Canada. Photography is welcome and everyone takes their turn.

If you go to Vancouver, check out the Art Gallery; it is clearly ambitious and I'm sure will be staging more major exhibitions this year/ Taking a hire car (or public transport) opens up more possibilities. Granville Island, with its fabulous market, is just a short run across the Granville Bridge.

with so many food stalls, you can put together an amazing picnic and eat outside on the waterfront and watch the world go by- definitely recommended.

Head in the opposite direction, through Stanley Park and over Lions Gate Bridge, spanning Burrard Inlet, and you get to the North shore and Grouse Mountain. Just 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver and at 4100ft, on a clear day you can see for miles, taking in the city landscape and the Pacific Ocean.

On my visit mist shrouded the summit and even the views from the cable car on the way up were restricted bu the low cloud. Never mind: there's still plenty to see and so at the top.

The wildlife refuge that is home to two orphaned grizzly bears is my favourite but the lumberjack show will also bring a smile to your face- it's good fun.

Another attraction on the North Shore is the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. It's so good that it attracts a million visitors a year. The bridge itself is 45ft long and 230ft high- somehow it feels higher than that when it gets a bit of a wobble on.

There are tree-top walks and bridges from tree to tree- all constructed in a way that doesn't damage the environment. It's very eco-friendly and the Cliffwalk is spectacular.

I could spend a week in Vancouver but in the morning I catch the fabulous Rocky Mountaineer. The memories of my time on the train will last a lifetime but I've had a bit of help. I've got a brilliant limited-edition model of the loco that hauled us through the Rockies taking peide of place on my office desk... Not a children's toy, it's perfect in every detail.

What an excuse to get a train set so I can give it a run from time to time. The Fairmoutn Chateau Lake Louise had views that would rival any hotel in the world. The magical mix of water and mountains that started at first light from my hotel window would follow me on my road trip on the Icefields Parkway up to Jasper.

First stop: Bow Lake, taking melt water from the Bow Glacier; the inky blueness of the water matches the sky, with hardly a breath of wind to trouble the reflection. At 6300ft above sea level, it sits in the shadow of Crowfoot Mountain and they combine to create a breathtaking scene. 

From Bow Summit at 7000ft, the highest point on the Icefields Parkway, you get great views across Lake Peyto, named after Bill Peyto, a trapper and early trail guide. Suspended rock particles flow into the lake from the Wapta Icefield and in the summer it has a bright turquoise colour.

Still on the Parkway, just an hour south of Jasper there's an opportunity to walk on the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield. Almost four miles long and more than half a mile wide, the glacier is best reached in the massive all-terrain vehicles. It's possible to walk it from the road but hidden crevasses make it a risky option; it's much better to go with the experts. Up to 1000ft-thick, the ice moves just 16ft a year. Everyone is taking pictures and there's almost a party atmosphere here down the ice- definitely a moment to remember.

closr by, the Athabasca Falls are a popular visitor stop. The falls are dramatic, but look upstream and the Athabasca river, while not having the drama, has a beauty that to me, surpasses that of the waterfall. the autumn colours and the low sun combine to create a subtle, but very stunning landscape. Next stop: Jasper.

Staying at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, I have a late night, not partying but taking in its Dark Sky experience around the open-air fire pit. Amazing.

The mobile phone app suggests we might see the Northern Lights around 2am. We don't, but somehow it doesn't matter- it's wonderful.

A moose appears out of the woods about midnight, sniffs the air and wanders off, leaving us at peace with the night sky. In the morning I take the Jasper Skytram to the top of Whistler's Mountain (7500ft). The air is clear, and marked trailers make a tempting walk; snow banks survive the autumn sun and it is a great place to be. Back at the hotel my holiday is coming to a close but not before I take to the water- in a canoe. 

The hotel is on the banks of Beauvert Lake and, as I push away from the shore, the serene beauty and tranquillity give me time to reflect on what has been an amazing trip.

Vancouver is a great city and the Canadian Rockies jaw droppingly beautiful. To spend two days on the Rocky Mountaineer was a unique experience. when I get home, I've got to take on the weekly shop at Asda- hmmm...

Have you visited Canada recently? Want to find out more?

Let us know what you think and share your experiences with us and others. Just follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, Instagram and YouTube

Current Issue

What's new

Walks by the sea

Fred Olsen's Cruise lines for 2025

Christmas books reviews

DVD reviews

Doctor Who

Our new website - Enjoy Britain online

New CD releases

Discover Knightsbridge, London

Birdwatching and more