Auckland to Vancouver was one of those strange flights where you set off in the evening and arrive in the morning of the same day.
It might screw up your sleep patterns, but it feels quite good to have apparently gained time and it meant that I had an afternoon to start my exploration of Vancouver.
Canada was a new country for me, number 70, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; a cross between the UK and the USA I suppose?
I started Stage 5 of my Round the World in 30 Days trip by picking up a hire car from Avis at Vancouver International Airport. This was the only company that seemed happy at my dropping off a car in Seattle, and the car supplied – an almost new Hyundai Santa Fe – turned out to be Washington registered.
I was still a bit concerned about taking a car across the border into the USA, but that was a worry for another day.
We decided to stay in North Vancouver, on the so-called North Shore, as that provided ready access to the foothills of the mountains, whilst still being only a short drive from the centre of the city. It proved a good choice.
My Ten Highlights of Vancouver and the North Shore
The first seven highlights are in Central Vancouver, the latter three on the North Shore.
1. Vancouver Lookout. This is not as high above surrounding buildings as, for example, the Sky Tower in Auckland, but I still found it worth visiting in order to get my bearings in the city. Seniors 60+ get a 20% discount.
2. Chinatown and Gastown. These two districts not far from the Vancouver Lookout are mentioned in many tourist guides, the former as the largest Chinatown in Canada and home to the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens, and the latter for its attractive Victorian buildings.
However we didn’t stay too long, as both areas had a run-down feel to them and didn’t seem that safe; they are certainly not advisable at night for Senior Travellers.
3. Stanley Park. It was a relief in many ways to head just a short distance from downtown Vancouver in to this 1,000 acre park bordering English Bay and the Burrard Inlet. As well as great views from the coastal roadway, there is much of interest to see in the park, including the nine totem poles near the Brockton Point Lighthouse.
By the way, that is a pile of sulphur on the North Shore, as explained in Yukon News.
4. Teahouse Restaurant in Stanley Park. Originally built as an officer’s mess during WWII, it is now a top notch restaurant. We had an excellent evening meal as we watched the sun setting over Vancouver Island and the lights of the buildings appeared on the North Shore.
5. Queen Elizabeth Park. Gardens are never at their best in early springtime, but this park, sited on the highest point in Vancouver, afforded some great panoramic views over the city. The well-tended borders were no doubt ready to burst into colour in the coming months.
6. Bloedel Conservatory. The Conservatory is undergoing extensive renovations externally, so much so, that it didn’t appear it could possibly be open. But it was, and what a very pleasant surprise.
As well as over 500 exotic plants, beautifully set out, there are more than 200 free-flying birds. See my Video. Don’t miss this if you visit Vancouver! Seniors 65+ get a 30% discount on entry charges.
We stayed there so long that we had to miss out on the VanDusen Botanical Garden a few blocks away, but that is something to look forward to during a future summer visit to Vancouver.
7. Drive around the Point Grey headland. Point Grey, to the west of the city, is home to the Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia. Driving past the various university departments and the botanic garden to the south of the headland leads to an attractive group of beaches to the north. I was surprised to see all the logs washed up on the beaches, but that appears to be common in these parts.
8. Lynn Canyon Park. I visited in pouring rain, but it didn’t spoil the natural beauty of this 600 acres of rainforest along the sides of Lynn Canyon, with waterfalls along the way. The suspension bridge may not be as long as at Capilano, but it’s still impressive, and there were no hordes of tourists around.
It can be slippery along the steep paths, so less nimble Seniors need to take care. There are no parking or entry charges.
9. The North Shore coastline and Whytecliff Park. Driving north-west from the Lions Gate Bridge along the Marine Drive provides some great views, initially of Vancouver, and then across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. Whytecliff Park near the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal is a good stopping point, with wide views over Howe Sound and Bowen Island.
10. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The wobbly 450 ft suspension bridge, 230 ft above the canyon floor, is quite exciting to cross, but I found the cliffwalk suspended over the sheer granite cliff faces to be more exhilarating.
The park is rather expensive at $30 (£16) per Senior 65+, just a $2 discount on the normal adult charge, and with additional charges for parking.
Yes, I’ve got to admit it; I stayed at another Holiday Inn. But it was perfectly placed on the North Shore, just by a bridge to Central Vancouver. It also looked after Senior Travellers well, giving discounts on room rates and providing a special discounted PrimeTime menu in the restaurant for those over 60. I can highly recommend this North Vancouver Holiday Inn with its large, well-furnished rooms and very friendly staff.
I was a bit disappointed with central Vancouver. The downtown area was quite shabby with a lot of down-and-outs around. Of the two gardens I had wanted to visit, the Minter Garden had closed down completely and the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Garden was so small, it only took ten minutes to look around.
However the Bloedel Conservatory was excellent and the coastal and canyon parks were well worth seeing.
In this brief visit, Vancouver appeared to me to be very much more like a city in the USA than the UK – other than some typically British items in the supermarkets and the Union Jack on the top of the British Columbia flag and. So I felt well acclimatised for heading south over the border to Seattle on the next stage of my Round the World trip.