Monday, 5 December 2016

Supercamps are an ideal way to start the cross country ski season.


By Keith and Heather Nicol
At Silver Star you can ski down Main street
      We just returned from a great Supercamp experience at Canada’s largest cross country ski trail network at the Sovereign Lake-Silver Star Nordic facility located near Vernon, B.C. The main Supercamps ran from November 21 to December 4, 2016 and they included 2 weekend camps and two 5 day mid week camps. These camps are worth looking at for many reasons including: early season snow, well qualified CANSI instructors and coaches and a 105 km long trail system that is well groomed for both classic and skate technique. Add to this, presentations by waxing experts, access to a well -equipped weight room, optional yoga and core workout sessions.... what more could you ask for? And did I mention that many cross country ski teams use this area for their early season training camps so you are sharing the trails with some of the continent’s best cross country skiers. Shane Landreville who organizes the Supercamps told us that the number of skiers taking part keeps increasing and many skiers come back year after year. This year there were over 300 skiers who took part and they came from all over North America and even several from England and even Australia!! 
A Supercamp group enjoying the snowy trails
    These camps are geared to everyone from first timers to advanced skiers wanting to improve their technique and get in cross country skiing on a huge variety of trails. If you want a mid season tune up on your skiing you can still take in 2 more weekend camps which are scheduled for January 13-15, 2017 and February 17-19, 2017. For more information see:

At Supercamps skiers get to try the trails at both Silver Star and Sovereign Lake (shown above)


Monday, 24 October 2016

Nanaimo’s Wild Play Elements Park is a perfect “fall” adventure

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Kids of all ages will have fun at WildPlay
        We are a big fan of adventure parks and zip lines and over the last number of years have sampled  these activities in many places across Canada from Newfoundland , Quebec, Ontario  and  Vancouver Island. But certainly one of the most varied parks we have visited is the WildPlay Elements Park in Nanaimo, B.C. We headed there from Courtenay on Saturday, October 22 and couldn’t have had a better experience. For one thing, in the fall the crowds have gone so you can pretty much go from Element to Element with minimal waiting. As well, the autumn leaves really add even more colour to the forest. And we can’t say enough good things about the staff – they were exceptionally friendly and very helpful.

Heather zipping 100 feet over the Nanaimo River

   One of the big attractions of the Nanaimo WildPlay Park is that it has 5 different activities for you to try. “We are best known for our 2 adrenaline charged elements- the Bungy Jump and Primal Swing” said Jessica Twiss the park’s guest services agent. “We have the only New Zealand style Bungy Jump in North America which uses a very stretchy cord which minimizes the impact of the jump on your body. We sometimes get 150 people per day in the summer coming from all over just to do this activity!  And the Primal Swing couldn’t have a better setting over the Nanaimo River“ she told us. We were after a bit tamer activities so we opted to do the DragonFly ziplines, the heart stopping Primal Swing and the Monkido Adventure Park.  
Keith on the Monkido Course negotiating a log obstacle

     We started with the ziplines and they have a beautiful setting over Nanaimo River. One zip is 300 feet long and the other is 600 feet and we loved the elevated view over the river. From there we headed to the Monkido Adventure Park with its wobbly logs, cable crossings, and many other obstacles. There are over 50 “games” in all (if you do all 4 courses) but we stopped at after the third course since we had booked the Primal Swing to finish our day. The Monkido Adventure Park starts off easy which is great for kids and others just getting a feel of it. The staff makes sure that you know the safety routine of clipping in and out of the safety cables that run along the entire course. This Saturday the Adventure Park was getting an impressive variety of people from an 11 year old girl’s birthday party to groups of teenagers to small groups of adults. The fact that you can go at your own pace is great and our most memorable obstacle was the swinging into the cargo net from a rope swing and then climbing up the net to the platform.  Our final adventure was the Primal Swing which starts from a bridge located 150 feet above the river. The launching process involves lots of harnesses and safety clips and then you push off arcing through the air at 140 km/hour toward the river only to swing up again. Even the unloading process is  exciting as you are gradually lowered down into the boat and taken to shore. Perhaps this isn't as tame as we thought!!
For the Primal Swing you launch off the bridge 150 feet above the Nanaimo River
  The Nanaimo WildPlay Elements Park has 2 adventures we didn’t try- the Bungy Jump and the “What’s to Fear” Jump  but we are saving those until next time. Thanks to all of the staff – Jessica, Alyssa, Jake, Edward, Erin, Ariel and Steve—you did a great job. This park is open for a few more weeks this year so go and check it out. For more information see:



Friday, 14 October 2016

Sampling the fall hiking in the Waterloo, Ontario area

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Autumn colours along the Mill Race trail
      Over the Thanksgiving weekend we visited the Waterloo area where Heather’s sister Barb Ryan hosted a Family Reunion. It was a great way to catch up Heather’s brothers and sisters and we also had a chance to do some hiking on some of the trails in the area. We thought the fall colours might be more advanced but it seems like the peak is still 10 days away. On one afternoon we headed to historic St Jacobs which is just on the outskirts of Waterloo. It also has popular trail along the Conestoga River called the Mill Race trail which was heavily used on Monday, October 10. The ideal fall weather really helped bring out the families and since this trail is 1.5 km one way it is suited to a wide range of walkers. We even saw a couple of cyclists using the smooth gravel trail and dogs are welcome on the pathway as well. See for more information. 

Walking along the Mill Race trail in St Jacobs

    The next day we explored one of the perimeter trails on the Laurel Creek Conservation Area. This trail is also a multi use trail and we saw cyclists as well as walkers using it on the day we went out. It had nicer fall colours than the Mill Race Trail and you also get glimpses of the reservoir within the Laurel Creek Conservation Area. This trail is just abit less than 1 km long and we parked near the trail on Laurel Gates Drive. The Waterloo area has many other hiking trails and over the next couple of weeks as the leaves begin to change they should make ideal destinations for anyone wanting to get some exercise. For more information see:

The Laurel Creek trail had nice fall colours when we recently walked the trail

Friday, 7 October 2016

Exploring Vancouver’s Stanley Park on foot, bicycle and horse drawn carriage

by Keith and Heather Nicol
The seawall is an scenic place to walk
         Vancouver’s Stanley Park is one of the world’s great urban parks.  It is larger than Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London, England. The 400 hectare park sits on its own peninsula surrounded in large part by the ocean.  One of Stanley Park’s biggest attractions is it’s 9 km seawall trail which winds around the perimeter of the park. The seawall has one lane for bicycles and in line skaters and another for runners and walkers. We started out on Monday, October 3 renting a tandem bike from Bayshore Bike Rentals which is located near the park entrance at 705 Denman Street. We were given a map of the park and told by the manager Barry Potts that if we had a flat tire or any other issues with the bike then just phone them and they would get another bike to us. “The easiest way to get to the park is to head to the side street and follow the bike lanes to the underpass. This will keep you out of the main traffic areas on Georgia Street” he told us. I took us about 90 minutes to do the 9 km loop since we stopped several times for pictures of Vancouver’s busy harbour, the Lion’s Gate Bridge and iconic Siwash Rock. The convention is to ride in a counter clockwise fashion around the park which is important since the trail is narrow with blind corners in some areas.  Bayshore Bike Rentals rents a variety of bicycles and they can be contacted:
Cycling past Siwash Rock

After returning our bicycle we decided to check out the horse drawn carriage tours which we had seen on our bike ride. We walked along the seawall to the start of the tour which is just past the Vancouver Rowing Club. Each carriage holds 26 people and we were even supplied with blankets to keep you warm on the cooler days of fall. The narrated tour lasts for 1 hour and our guide was very knowledgeable about the sites and scenes that we saw along the way. She pointed out Discovery Island which was once a first nations burial ground and she even recognized well known B.C. businessman’s Jim Pattison’s huge yacht as it cruised past us in Burrard Inlet. We had one stop to see several  totem poles and we enjoyed seeing the tall trees that make up much of the central part of Stanley Park.  The route also passed by park’s famous rose gardens. For more information see: 

The horse drawn carriage tours are another way to see Stanley Park


Monday, 26 September 2016

A Grizzly Bear tour with Discovery Marine Safaris showcases bears and more

by Keith and Heather Nicol
 On Sunday September 25 we decided at the spur of the moment to do a Grizzly Bear Tour with Discovery Marine Safaris since they had space and many of their upcoming tours are booked solid. These tours start in Campbell River and involve a 2 hour boat trip aboard the Kuluta to Bute Inlet and the Orford River Valley on the B.C. mainland. In our group of 22 people there were a handful of Canadians with most people from various countries in Europe including England, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland.  Once we were on the dock at Orford Valley the Homalco First Nations took over the tour and they provided buses and lookout platforms for viewing bears in several different locations in the valley. Our local guides were Janet and Herbie and no sooner had we stopped at our first viewing area than Herbie reported seeing a bear in amongst some logs along the river. 
Two young bears negotiate some slippery logs
      We had been told that patience is a key aspect of bear watching and it seemed to work since the first bear soon headed off into the underbrush where it was out of sight. But a few minutes later the first bear returned with another young bear and they began to climb up on the logs and walk out over the river. After watching them intently for some time, Janet and Herbie suggested heading to the next viewing area. But just as the last people were about to board the bus, 2 more juvenile bears came out on the other side of the river and began ambling toward us along the beach. These bears occasionally reared up and wrestled with each other which was fascinating to watch.  One bear grabbed a salmon from the river and headed off into the woods to eat it and the other bear seemed to pick at some dead salmon along the shore before also heading into the trees. 
Checking out a dead salmon on the gravel bar
   From there we checked out several more “bear” areas but didn’t see anything. At one station we climbed up on a tall stand and could look down on the salmon making their way upstream to spawn. Sea gulls were everywhere taking advantage of all of this “free” food from dead salmon that had already spawned. We then checked out a nearby gravel bar and unexpectedly spotted 2 large elk! These elk watched us for some time then even did some sparring with their antlers lowered at each other. After a couple of jousting tousles the elk headed off into a stand of trees. Our Captain John Lewis said that in all of his trips in here this fall he had not seen any elk so we felt lucky to have seen them. On our way back to the dock we saw another elk and then stopped for a bear that had just come down from the river bank. We watched it amble along the river before it slipped into the underbrush and disappeared.  
Two large Roosevelt Elk locking horns
        Our return trip featured amazing clouds layered against the mountains and at one point we spotted a dall’s porpoise in the distance. We toured north of Quadra Island this time and passed through a narrow slice of rock appropriately called “Hole in the Wall”. Later we stopped over Ripple Rock which was blown up in 1958 to make shipping safer in Seymour Narrows. Evidently explorer Captain George Vancouver called this section of water "one of the vilest stretches in the world".  Thanks to Johanna Ferrie (naturalist), John Lewis (captain) and our First Nations guides for showing this magical area. For more information on Discovery Marine Safaris see:
Wispy cloud bands made the mountains even more photogenic