When we planned JWalking 2 back in January we were a little concerned that we’d slightly overdone things with our trip up to Whistler. Was it really worth getting a bus all the way up and then back just to visit one place? Hell Yes!
It may be the best decision we ever made!
The four extra days we’d spent in Vancouver after Victoria had been fabulous and we’d fallen for the city all over again. Once again we were sad to leave but I guess that’s a good thing isn’t it as it must mean that we enjoyed our stay. Anyway, an early checkout from the Buchan Hotel and bus 19 down to Burrard Street Station where we were due to catch the Pacific Line Coach up to Whistler.
So we boarded the ‘Whistler Express’ in Vancouver, sounds exciting doesn’t it, and set off on Canadian Route 99 for the mountains. Through Stanley Park where we’d enjoyed so many wonderful days hiking and out through West Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay. Then the long coastal road up Howe Sound to the town of Squamish, passing through marvelously named places like Cypress Mountain, Lions Bay, and our favourite Furry Creek. The road is called the ‘Sea to Sky Highway’ from Squamish as it rises steeply into the snow-topped mountains. Passing through Garibaldi and Brandywine Falls before arriving in Whistler two hours later. What a fabulous journey. We’ll be doing it in reverse next week too.
Where is Whistler then?
It’s a small town about 80 miles north of Vancouver in the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains, it’s not actually in the Canadian Rockies. The town is almost a mountain resort that serves hikers and mountain bikers in the summer and then skiers in the winter months. Historically it was only a tiny little place right up to the 1960s when a group of Vancouver businessman decided they would invest and redevelop Whistler as a skiing resort. Primarily they wanted to bid for the 1968 Winter Olympics. Up to then it was still known as Alta Lake.
The town seems to have been Olympic crazy over the past 40 years and made several unsuccessful bids to host the games before it got the 2010 Winter Olympics awarded in a joint Vancouver bid.
When we planned and arranged this part of JWalking 2 we just couldn’t get an Airbnb in Whistler so had to book some standard tourist accommodation so the Alpenglow at Whistler would be our home for the next week. A spacious self-catering apartment was exactly what we needed as we checked in and then wandered out to get a feel for the place.
As usual Jo went completely brochure-crazy and ended up with handfuls of leaflets and newspapers all about the local area and every activity possible. Whistler is a real activity centre so you can do virtually everything here if you have the cash. The town have actually been super-smart in offering different sporting activities and experiences all year round and they get over 2 million visitors per year.
Tourists or Travellers ?
We often have to explain to people that we’re not your normal run-of-the-mill holiday-makers and can’t book trips, activities, nights-out constantly as this is actually our life now and we do have to budget a little. That being said, we did decide in the beginning that if there was something extra-special that we really wanted to do then we would go for it. You know what I mean, the once-in-a-lifetime trips like swimming the barrier reef, or driving out to the Grand Canyon, or even spending Christmas Day on a ship!
As we’ve mentioned several times since we arrived in Canada, we’ve seen sea planes buzzing around Vancouver and Victoria and thought how great it looked. Well we saw a seaplane trip in Whistler that we just couldn’t ignore.
Whistler Air at Green Lake
After a lot of thought and discussion we got down to the Tourist Information booking office nice and early to enquire about availability of flights and how to book etc. Five minutes later we were literally running down the main street to meet a minibus as we’d signed up for the next trip! Crazy! Before we knew what was happening we were in the back of the Harbour Air minibus with three others on our way to Green Lake to take the flight.
Ten minutes later we were in the flight office on the floating pontoon on the edge of the beautiful Green Lake filling in forms and preparing to go. Our fellow adventurers were Judy from Calgary, a slightly nervous lady who seemed to need some encouragement and chatted constantly, Bernie and Blanche from Perth Australia, high-class 5-star travellers who had been everywhere and done everything, and finally Harry the Pilot (no idea what he was there for).
A beautiful clear blue sky awaited us as we boarded the 6-seater DHC-2 Beaver single propeller aircraft. Blanche dived in pretty sharpish and took the co-pilot position as Jo and I took the rear two seats. We’d been watching these ‘floatplanes’ a lot in Vancouver and Victoria and couldn’t quite believe that we were just about to be going up in one.
We strapped ourselves in and put on our headphones as ‘Harry the Pilot’ taxied out into the middle of the lake. Excited? You’re not kidding. If you’d stuck two 7 year olds in the back of the plane they wouldn’t have been anymore excited than us. The feeling as he opened the throttle and accelerated across the water was incredible and we could hardly contain ourselves as the aircraft lifted off and rose up into the air. What a rush!
Now I could go on and on about every minute of our half hour flight and what we went over and what we saw but that still wouldn’t do it justice. The seaplane turned to fly right over the town of Whistler and up between Blackcomb and Whistler mountains. Across Cheakamus Lake and over the forbidding slopes of the Black Tusk we approached Garibaldi Lake.
We passed over the amazing Panorama Ridge and over snow-tipped peaks as we reached the turquoise waters of Garibaldi Lake, over a mile above sea level and surrounded by active volcanoes on three sides. As the lake came into view it just took our breath away. No roads this far up so completely untouched by man and so incredibly beautiful.
The views were just breath-taking and the problem was that they were incredible on all sides! Everywhere we looked in fact. Even Bernie seemed impressed although Blanche had a problem with her headphones that was almost catastrophic. The scariest moment was when ‘Harry the Pilot’ let go of the controls to start taking photos of his co-pilot Blanche! Not sure that was completely safe.
All too soon we were approaching Green Lake again and racing across the surface ready to touch down. What an experience that was, landing on water. Completely unreal and unbelievable. I’m not sure when we actually stopped grinning or calmed down but it was long after we landed. We absolutely loved every single second of our flight and even Bernie said it was ‘ok’ and he’s done everything! Judy from Calgary was pleased to be back on the ground and Blanche was still moaning about her headphones. Just me and Jo that we’re overwhelmed then?
What a Day!
What else was there to do after that but head into town and celebrate with a drink and something to eat. A couple of slices of the worlds best pizza from Fat Tony’s Pizza and then a couple of cold beers at the Dubh Linn Gate bar at the bottom of Whistler mountain. I think we were still grinning as the waitress served us.
So how on earth could we top that experience? Would Whistler be all downhill from here? Will those childish smiles ever leave our stupid faces? Will we ever ever forget our Glacier Flight?
26.7 – 28.7.2016