Tag Archives: BC with kids

Victoria with kids

It’s small, walkable, picturesque and totally charming. And with each visit I wonder why we don’t visit Victoria, B.C. more often.

Victoria's Inner Harbour

We could’ve spent the day watching float planes land and ferries arrive in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, from the comfort of our room at the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort.

I last visited Victoria in 2011 for the Art of the Cocktail festival and then wrote about the city’s burgeoning spirits scene for the Calgary Herald. Fast forward five years and cocktails are pretty much off the table during a visit with my husband and children, aged 11 and eight. Instead of learning to love gin, our goal is to find Victoria’s wild heart and then write about it for Toque and Canoe. But on the trail of the untamed we also toured through the city’s famous family-friendly stops. If you’re here with kids, don’t miss…

1. Children’s Farm in Beacon Hill Park

There are alpacas, bunnies and birds, but the biggest hit at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm is the goat enclosure, where billies, nannies and kids approach visitors and demand pets, even going so far as to jump onto laps or even backs. You’ll actually be able to say that a Billy Goat Gruff has your back, and mean it.

This Billy Goat Gruff has definitely got Avery's back at the Beacon Hill Children's Farm in Victoria, BC.

This Little Billy Goat Gruff has definitely got Avery’s back at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm in Victoria, B.C.

2. The harbour seals at Fisherman’s Wharf

The fish and chips from Barb’s is fantastic, but the cheeky harbour seals swimming off the dock at Fisherman’s Wharf and angling for raw fish bits by splashing with their flippers, steal the show. When your kid asks you if she can feed the seals, don’t hesitate. Pay the $5 — it’s worth every loonie!

This adorable and very well fed harbour seal appreciated his 10th lunch of the day!

This adorable and well fed harbour seal appreciated his 10th lunch of the day.

3. Butchart Gardens

Our kids were dazzled by the sheer number of blooms at Butchart Gardens, from azaleas to zinnias. This renowned attraction got its start as a private Eden planted by Jennie Butchart to camouflage her husband’s exhausted (and unsightly) limestone quarry. She got a bit carried away and the garden grew and grew and grew. We marvelled at the Sunken Garden, site of the old quarry, now a riot of colours, and got our zen on in the tranquil Japanese Garden.

Bridges, pagodas and tranquil ponds make the Japanese Garden at Butchart Gardens a calming oasis (yes, even with kids).

Bridges, pagodas and tranquil ponds make the Japanese Garden at Butchart Gardens a calming oasis (yes, even with kids).

4. A whale of a time

You can’t visit Victoria without going out on the water to look for orcas, a.k.a. “killer whales.” We last saw these magnificent creatures performing a cheesy show at SeaWorld in San Diego two years ago, so it felt better and way more natural to see them in their ocean environment on a Prince of Whales tour. We saw a transient pod of six orcas and learned they are an example of “cultural driven evolution,” a group that chose to eat seals over fish. As a result of their mammal meal preference, the group no longer breeds with the resident orcas, which eat salmon.

See that tiny speck in the water behind Avery? That's a killer whale!

See that tiny speck in the water behind Avery? That’s a killer whale!

5. The Victoria Bug Zoo

Never balk at an opportunity to hold a tarantula! Tell that to my husband, who cradled a hairy specimen at The Victoria Bug Zoo. Avery was a bit put out they don’t let kids have a turn, but she consoled herself by touching a millipede.

Now I know who to call when I see a spider on the wall...

Now I know who to call when I see a spider on the wall…

The goods: You can do all of the above through the fall, and if you happen to visit Victoria in October, there are oodles of spooky events and activities taking place, from ghostly walks to a Halloween-themed tea for kids at the Fairmont Empress. Plus the Art of the Cocktail festival takes place Oct. 22-23.

Stay: The Delta Ocean Pointe Resort made us feel welcome with kids’ play packs at check-in (complete with travel games, a slinky and a puzzle cube), the best view a kid could hope for, and a great location just a short walk from Chinatown or a quick water taxi ride away from the Inner Harbour action.


End of the road… trip

There’s always a sense of letdown coming home from a great holiday. Your excitement to sleep in a comfortable bed is tempered by your disappointment over trading scenic hikes and hot beach days for a predictable routine. So it was for us as we pointed the car east (no one ever says, “Go east,” do they?) from Vernon toward Calgary.

The climb up and the descent down Roger's Pass was the highlight of the final leg of our B.C. road trip, from Vernon to Calgary.

The climb up and the descent down Roger’s Pass was the highlight of the final leg of our B.C. road trip.

With six road hours (and eight tunnels) ahead, we had time to talk about our favourite parts of the B.C. road trip.

Avery most enjoyed the cabin up Indian Arm off North Vancouver. A budding naturalist, she’s in her element turning over rocks to find eels and crabs.

Avery catches one of many crabs up Indian Arm.

Avery catches one of many crabs up Indian Arm.

Bennett has graduated from water baby and is a bonafide splash kid. When he wasn’t paddling around a lake (or the Pacific) in his life jacket, he was imitating Piper’s doggy paddle in shallow water. Perhaps he’ll soon be swimming under his own power?

Bennett swims to his honorary auntie while cousin Jack enjoys the water too.

Bennett swims with his honorary auntie Simone and cousin Jack in the frigid Pacific up Indian Arm fjord.

Blake loved escaping the big city to be active outdoors as a family while hiking, swimming, kayaking and mountain biking in beautiful B.C. Oh, and stuffing his face with peaches, cherries and samosas (and wine!) in between activities.

Hiking as a family to BX Falls near Vernon.

Hiking as a family to BX Falls near Vernon.

I (Lisa) loved the heat. And being outside so much. And the way time seemed to slow down for two weeks. Though the places we visited were quite different from one another — small town Fernie; rustic, rainforest-tinged Indian Arm; smoking hot, lake-blessed Vernon — our theme of being active outside persisted throughout the trip. More than once I was amazed by our kids and their willingness to try new things (crab meat! paddle boarding!), hike several kilometres under the baking sun, or sit for hours in a car without complaint. They are turning into real little travellers and I couldn’t be happier about that. But if I had to pick one moment…

Sweet sibs share a moment at one of the most beautiful alpine lakes near Fernie.

Sweet sibs contemplate a beautiful alpine lake. They’ll always have each other, and share childhood memories of this family vacation.

Pet Beach

Kalamalka Lake near Vernon in the Okanagan Valley has been rated as one of the world’s top 10 most beautiful lakes by National Geographic. It is stunning — its clear blue waters that range in hue from aqua to indigo are framed in by ponderosa pine-forested hills to the east and scrubby, rocky promontories to the west. In the middle of this natural splendour sits Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, a hiker’s and swimmer’s haven with marked trails that lead to secluded bays perfect for a dip on a hot day.

Kids and pup enjoy the clear blue water of Kalamalka Lake.

Kids and pup enjoy Kalamalka Lake at Pet Beach.

We hiked from the main parking lot down to a quiet bay and then up to a rocky lookout that afforded views down the lake and back toward Coldstream, near Vernon. From there it was an easy descent to Pet Beach, a dedicated area where you can let your dog swim. And doggy paddle Piper did. We took her out in the water a few times and let her swim back to shore, where she was rewarded with a treat. Before long she plunged in on her own and swam a lap around Blake. Then Avery threw a stick out for her, which she retrieved, over and over and over again till she was pooped.

High: Piper is officially a water dog! And we had the beach to ourselves, a drastic departure from nearby Kal Beach, the local Coldstream summer hangout that teems with people every day all summer.

Low: For some reason we didn’t bring swimming suits and Bennett tried imitating Piper’s puppy strokes… with all his clothes on.

Outcome: This park is an Okanagan Valley gem. Plan to spend a half day exploring it. Come prepared with water, snacks, swimming suits and a towel or two.

Gone fishin’!

The ocean water up Indian Arm north of Vancouver was “boiling” with pink salmon making their way up the fjord to spawn. You could see them jumping from the dock and it looked like easy pickings. We motored up to a spot near where Silver Falls trickles into the ocean and started casting toward shore, counting to 10 while the lure sank toward the bottom.

My first catch? A red jellyfish. My second? A tiny, spiny rock fish. All around me other fisherfolk were netting giant pink salmon so I kept casting until, at last, I hooked one. A five-minute battle ensued where the fish tried his hardest to swim free, while I got the best arm workout of the trip. Avery netted him then back at the dock, I gutted him and bagged him. Guess what’s for dinner?

I caught him and Avery netted him. He's almost as big as she is!

I caught him and Avery netted him. He’s almost as big as she is!

It's actually pretty easy and not yucky at all. Maybe I missed my calling as a surgeon?

Gutting a fish is actually pretty easy and not that yucky. Maybe I missed my calling as a surgeon?

Forget farm-to-fork. I'm all about-sea-to-stomach dining after salmon fishing in B.C.!

Forget farm-to-fork. I’m all about sea-to-stomach dining after salmon fishing in B.C.!

High: The human-vs-nature adrenalin rush of reeling in a (relatively) big fish.

Low: My arm is still sore!

Outcome: Fishing is fun and somewhat meditative. As a bonus, it often puts dinner on the table.

Up Indian Arm

For August long weekend we boarded a boat in the Deep Cove harbour in North Vancouver and motored up Indian Arm fjord to a cabin reachable only by water. It’s not off-the-grid-living, exactly — there’s electricity and running water — but time slows and the kids spend their days catching small eels, turning rocks over to look for crabs and setting out the trap for large Dungeness. If they’re feeling more adventurous they can jump off the dock into the chilly Pacific, kayak, or get pulled behind the boat on a tube. It’s bliss.

Starfish like this one are common in the waters around Vancouver.

Sea stars like this one are common in the waters around Vancouver.

High: Island, err, fjord time. No schedule and no screens. Just sun, water and the call of a bald eagle flying overhead.

Low: A summer cold. This is not the place to get sick!

Just boil for 15 minutes and you've got yourself a delish snack.

Just boil for 15 minutes and you’ve got yourself a delish snack.

Have dog will travel

It’s our first official trip with the dog. Piper, our Brittany spaniel puppy, is now five months old, and though she’s ridden in the car to Fernie once before, this B.C. road trip is our first real holiday as a party of five. As a result, there are learning curves (e.g. forgetting the dog poop bag during the hike on Day 2 of our vacation). What will a dog do on in a car for six hours as we drive from Fernie to Osoyoos, on Day 4? How does it work in a hotel room with a dog? Can you just leave her in the kennel while the cleaning people do their thing?

After driving 545 km in a car with a puppy, an eight-year-old and a five-year-old, I have to say it’s way easier to travel with a dog than with kids.

Blake took this lovely portrait, Travel With Dog, while he was driving down pass No. 4. Nice!

Blake took this lovely portrait, Travel With Dog, while he was driving down pass No. 4. See the scenery whizzing by?

For one thing, she didn’t tell us she was hungry every 10 minutes all day long, nor did she ask us annoying questions like, “How much longer till Osoyoos?” when we were in Castlegar. Instead, she slept between Fernie and Creston, then accompanied me on a walk through the cute downtown when we stopped. We stopped again at Christina Lake for a water wade and ice cream and she enjoyed another nice walk. She was a bit restless on the final leg to Osoyoos, but I’m impressed that, unlike the kids, there was no whining. She either dozed or watched the mountain scenery turn to desert scrub as we descended into the Okanagan Valley and a hot but dry temperature of 33C.

Upon arrival at Spirit Ridge Resort we were impressed to find a doggie treat and watering station by the check-in, as well as poop bags, dog biscuits and a food bowl in our pet-friendly suite. As for how housekeeping mixes with dogs? They don’t. We’ll have to kennel Piper before we put the children in Kidz Kamp and head off wine tasting.

Dogs get their own special check-in at Spirit Ridge, complete with water and treats.

Dogs get their own special check-in at Spirit Ridge, with water and treats.

In their defence I will say that our kids were pretty great during this long day on the road. But in contrast travelling with a dog is easy-peasy.

High: After checking in we headed straight to the pool and water slide. It was a perfect way to relax and get refreshed after all those kilometres. As a bonus, Bennett showed extreme independence, going down the water slide and swimming across the pool by himself while we sat in our lounge chairs. Bliss!

Runner up: The dramatic descent into Osoyoos. Beautiful scenery.

Low: Nothing about the drive was as bad as our evening meal. I like to DQ something different about once a year, but I won’t be recommending this particular franchise to anyone. It wasn’t the food that was lacking, but the service. Memo to the owner behind the counter: you have to be nice to your customers or eventually they will stop coming in — even for Blizzards when it’s 33C.

Cliff jumping in the Canadian Rockies

The first time we hiked up to Silver Spring Lakes near Elko, B.C., I thought I wasn’t going to make it. The sun beat down relentlessly; the children (then ages six and three) complained and the youngest needed to be carried; and to top it off we took a wrong turn and had to backtrack up loose shale to get to the “cliff” side of the lake. We were rewarded with a pristine alpine swimming hole with a rocky escarpment on the east side that’s perfect for launching off into the clear, cold water.

A teen jumps fearlessly off the highest cliff, plungng some tk feet intot he clear water below. Pristine Canadiana.

A teen jumps fearlessly off the highest cliff, plunging some 25 feet into the clear water below. Pristine Canadiana!

Two years later, on Day 3 of our B.C. road trip, we knew the trail and the hike seemed to take no more than 15 minutes (the kids now have longer legs). We staked out a spot on the rocks and then took turns jumping into the ever-so-beautiful lake. I even dove head first (though it should be noted I flung myself from a height of maybe five feet).

Diving into the lake. My reaction upon surfacing? "Brrrr!"

Diving into the lake. My reaction upon surfacing? “Brrrr!”

High: Avery jumped in this year without a life jacket — twice! And Bennett jumped too, holding Blake’s hand.

Low: Why, oh why, didn’t we bring Crocs? The shale in the shallows and lining the shore is sharp, and it’s loose as you climb back up. Without sport sandals your options are slicing a toe going barefoot, or taking your hiking boots off and then making another in your party ferry them down so you can put them back on before scrambling up again. I also worried Bennett would at any moment loose his balance and tumble onto the sharp rocks everywhere.

Outcome: Mamas, forget about your squeamishness over heights and slippery surfaces and simply enjoy this beautiful place. Your kids have better balance than you think, and will never forget jumping from a cliff into a postcard-perfect piece of wilderness.

Avery lets loose with a holler before making a big splash.

Avery lets loose with a holler before making a big splash.