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Best of the West in British Columbia

by | Sep 30, 2016 | Blog

I was in two minds when I boarded the plane at Gatwick headed to Vancouver.  This trip to British Columbia was my first time to Canada, somewhere I have always wanted to visit, but it would also be the longest flight I had been on and it wasn’t all that bad!

I landed in Vancouver in the afternoon, wandered along plush Robson Street in the evening sun before sitting down to try some fresh ‘Ocean Wise’ halibut at COAST restaurant.  This was the first tick off my ‘BC Bucket-list’, which consisted of trying as many local foods, drinks and activities as I possibly could.  That being said, it ended up that a short trip to my bed was all the exploring I managed that evening.

The following morning I woke up to a beautiful sunrise and was excited to explore this big city decorated with nature.  I followed the morning rush and was introduced to a Canadian ‘must’ Tim Hortons coffee.  Coffee in-hand I was whisked to Flyover Canada for a birds-eye view of Canada’s glorious countryside.  But my highlight of the day was a zodiac boat tour which whizzed us from the waterfront out to Burrard Inlet where we saw the huge green expanse of Stanley Park and the city-skyline against the backdrop of the mountains whilst weaving in-between the mass of gigantic tankers anchored in the bay.

Whilst I was lucky with the weather throughout the trip, I also got a taste of wild, west coast weather and a heavy downpour followed me all the way from Vancouver to the mountain resort of Sun Peaks.  Here I tried another first, riding a Segway (another tick on my bucket-list)!  I bobbed along the grassy ski runs, narrowly avoiding a dip in the puddles.  This was also where I saw my first and only ever wild bear; it was an incredible thought that I was sharing the same space as them … check number three.  After a busy, wet day we warmed up having dinner at the Noble Pig in Kamloops, a quirky local brewhouse where we tasted some unique ales created in-house – mocha porter, pepper and sour ales, yum.

As a massive animal lover the BC Wildlife Park was something I was really looking forward to learning about.  Here animals that are unable return to the wild are given a chance to live a happy life including bald eagles injured and unable to fly; grizzly bear siblings Dawson and Knute who were too friendly to be released and the incredibly rare Spirit bear Klover (who I was lucky enough to spot, after 10 minutes of waiting as I turned to walk away a little boy shouted “bear”, so I nearly missed him).

Our next activity was one of my favourite things… wine tasting, which we did plenty of along the way, in Monte Creek, Vernon, Oliver and Penticton.  The Thompson Okanagan is a region bursting with flavour, full of wineries, orchards and farms with ‘farm to fork’ dining and ‘vine to wine’ experiences.  The Okanagan is one of the furthest north locations in the world where grapes are harvested to make wine, and travelling in September allowed us to see the hive of activity that was the gathering and crush.  We sampled a variety of wines including ice wine which is super sweet and picked whilst the grape is frozen on the vine.  The vineyards’ had amazing wine but also great views over huge lakes, rivers, mountains, historic railroads or even the next door neighbours expansive vineyard or farm.  But it’s not only the wineries that soak up the views.  At Sparkling Hill Resort (Swarovski’s only spa and hotel in the world), I was greeted by a waterfall of real crystals and views that overlooked Lake Okanagan, and an amazing spa which I could have spent hours relaxing in.

I was also lucky enough to experience the First Nations hospitality and culture at Quaaout Lodge, on the water’s edge of Little Shuswap Lake, owned by the local Indian band.  We first sat down for lunch, and tried the naughty but nice traditional Bannock bread, freshly fried and soft with a delicious savoury taste.  Following this we attended a smudging ceremony; sat around a fire in a traditional underground winter home and using the smoke from burning incense we washed over ourselves to invite peace and clear negative energies.  It was a humbling experience and I was full of questions about the way of life that Frank and Tanner, our First Nations hosts, lived and I got a chance to ask during our canoeing experience.  Pushing off from the private beach and onto the calm water, they told me they were glad for the opportunity to be able to keep their traditions alive, show other people and immerse themselves every day at work.  Their morning commute was a canoe ride along the lake!

My final stop in the Thompson Okanagan region was Osoyoos, with a surprising desert climate the area was much drier but still perched on the huge Osoyoos Lake, apparently the warmest in BC… I wish I could have tested it.  We headed to Spirit Ridge Resort, another intriguing First Nations property home to Nk’Mip (pronounced ‘inkameep’) cultural centre and winery.  The winery here is the first Aboriginal-owned and operated winery in North America, and what a beautiful setting overlooking the lake, we even saw wild horses running about the land below us.  After exploring the resort we headed to Watermark Resort , here I had the second half of one of BC’s Signature Canadian experiences (I’m beginning to lose track of the checks off of my bucket-list!).  Earlier in the day we had visited Covert Farms, a small family-run farm with a great expanse of farmland cared for in an inspiringly sustainable way, here we had taken a tour and sampled some fresh produce, and the five-course dinner I was now looking at was the second part.  Salmon caught in one of the nearby lakes, which have come back this year with abundance with the removal of damns further afield, and other local delights.  That night was the fullest  I have been for a long time, but relaxing on the balcony overlooking the moon’s reflection on the lake was enough to help me sleep.

Now I’m sure that you think there’s nothing more I could possibly cover with a two page long blog, but you are wrong, I still have a trip through the Kootenay Rockies to cover, so stay tuned for part two…