Saturday, 25 June 2016

Biking around Puntledge River in Courtenay provides scenic river views

by Keith and Heather Nicol
     For anyone looking for a perfect mountain bike tour in the Comox Valley you couldn’t do much better than the loop around the Puntledge River, just west of Courtenay.  It is suited to a wide range of riders from kids to seniors and involves trails that are generally smooth with few hills or tricky descents. You could do this loop from a variety of starting points and in the past we have ridden this loop right from Courtenay but in this case we started from the Duncan Bay Main road near Stoten Falls. Fellow biker Norm Reynolds initially showed me this trail earlier this year but on this day Cliff Haylock was keen to see it so he accompanied me. We parked at 10U 0351669E and 5505112N and we followed the gravel road next to the pipeline. 

The first part of the route is on a gravel ride that parallels a pipeline
 You need to duck your bike past some gates in a couple of places but otherwise you can stay on your bike for just about the entire ride. Part way along the route jogs to the left and the trail narrows at the dam. From here the route follows the river and becomes more interesting as the smooth trail winds around through the tall trees. There are short bridges across small streams and then it arrives at the bridge which crosses the Puntledge River at Comox Lake. 
Much of the middle part of the trail winds along the river
  Just after the bridge look for a small trail which cuts right off the gravel road and this leads to a nice park with picnic tables. Again follow the trail next to the river and you are in for a nice winding flowing trail all the way to Nymph Falls Park. Once at the park we headed to the Forbidden Plateau paved road and followed it back to Duncan Bay Main road where our car was parked. Over all the distance according to our GPS was about 18 km and it took us about 90 minutes with a few stops for pictures. This makes this scenic loop an ideal morning or afternoon bike trip. The trail does have a few choices but if take the trail along the river you should be fine.
There is a small park at the upper dam at Comox Lake.  This is the halfway point.


Try the Westcoast Sightseeing tour for a fine introduction to Vancouver

by Keith and Heather Nicol
     On Monday June 20 we decided to do an impromptu “hop on hop off” bus tour of downtown Vancouver with our daughter, Kristie. Although Kristie has lived in Vancouver for several years she thought she might learn some new things about city on this tour. It was super convenient to get started –we simply looked up the stops that bus makes and then looking at the on line map of their GPS equipped buses we could see when the next one would be coming along. The usual spacing is about 20 minutes apart so you won’t have to wait long but in our case we simply left her apartment in time to walk a short distance to the Aquatic Centre where we caught the next bus almost immediately.  
The open roof means that you can easily see in all directions - in this case passing by the Vancouver Library
 The bus features an open area at the back which we appreciated since it gave good views in all directions which is ideal for taking pictures. The bus makes 24 stops in downtown Vancouver at major hotels and tourist attractions and this allows you to stop and explore an area and then catch the next bus. There are also several stops in Stanley Park for those interested in seeing this huge natural area on foot. The route travels past the tall office towers of Vancouver as well as going past buildings with a distinctive architecture like the “Coliseum like” Vancouver Library. We learned that Vancouver is Hollywood north and is the 3rd largest film and TV production location in North America. It also has the 3rd largest China town in North America and that Gastown is where Vancouver’s first buildings were constructed. The commentary is lively and informative and the entire tour takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete. Also who knew there were 60,000 bees on top of the Vancouver Convention Centre or that the steam clock in Gastown is the one of just a handful in the world?
The Hop on staff were friendly and helpful

      We thought the staff were helpful and we were asked on a couple of occasions if we had questions about the tour or Vancouver in general.  If you want play tourist in your own town or are visiting Vancouver and want to learn about the city then this is a cost effective way to do it. For more information see:
The open air "windows" allowed you to easily take pictures

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Cypress Falls hike is a picturesque short hike in West Vancouver

By Keith and Heather Nicol
    For a Father’s Day hike on June 19 we had decided to hike the Sea to Sky Summit trail in Squamish but the cloud deck was quite low and the web cam showed fog at the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola so we opted to do a lower elevation hike closer to Vancouver.  We chose the Cypress Falls trail which seemed to meet our criteria of being scenic, not too far away and one that we hadn’t been on before. In checking the reviews of the trail we noted that many people said it was not marked and that although it had been rated as easy was more difficult than it appeared to be. But since it was only 3 km return we thought we should at least be able to find the upper falls. 
The trail starts off well defined and easy to walk
To get to the start of the Cypress Falls Trail, head westbound toward Horseshoe Bay on Highway 99 and take exit #4 to Woodgreen Drive.  Turn right onto Woodgreen Drive and continue along the road as it bends to the left and heads up a hill. Turn right on Woodgreen Place. Follow the gravel driveway at the end of the street which leads to the parking lot. The trailhead (GPS coordinates are: 10 U 0482490 E and 5466683 N). When we were there on Sunday, June 19 the small parking lot was just about full and we headed off on a wide well defined trail. We remembered that one on line comment about the trail was that you should avoid the temptation of following the main trail across a small bridge about ten minutes from the start.  Instead follow the less distinct trail up the hill to the left of the stream. From the bridge the left hand trail certainly was more difficult but still clearly defined. Although the trail crossed over many areas of roots and the occasional log, it would still be appropriate for a variety of ages and the trail wasn’t too muddy given the heavy rain of the day before. 
The main falls is impressive after a rain

 Along this section you get nice views of the rushing stream on your right and the subdued shades of  various greens made the trail visually attractive. Keep your eye out for a gate and the falls viewpoint is just ahead in a small clearing. Certainly use care around the falls since when we were there the ground was quite wet and the sheer cliff drops to the river are significant. It is tempting to get lower and closer to the falls but it is very slippery in wet conditions.  We returned via the same trail. Allow about an hour to 90 minutes for the return trip and be sure to bring a camera. There seem to be lots of other trails in this area but without a map and no signs it is difficult to know where they go. We recommend this trail for the views of stream and waterfall but since it is not marked pay attention to where you are going. For more information see:

We loved the various shades of green

Stubbs Island Whale Watching in Telegraph Cove is a must do

 by Keith and Heather Nicol

    On Wednesday ,  June 15 we took the 1:00 pm Stubbs Island Whale Watching Tour aboard the “Lukwa”  which is a sleek 49 passenger aluminum tour boat geared for whale watching. It turns out that this company was B.C.'s first whale watching company and began operating in 1980. Since then they have been actively involved in promoting responsible wildlife viewing and helped create the Ecological Reserve in Robson Bight which is critical habitat for orcas also known as killer whales.
Watching for whales aboard the Lukwa
The tour started with an introduction by Captain Wayne Garton and biologist Jackie Hildering. This was followed by a quick quizzing of the 25 or so passengers. Interestingly most were from Europe, especially Germany and Switzerland and they were typical of their usual clients. "We usually get 70-80% Europeans traveling with us. It seems we are better known there than on Vancouver Island" Wayne told us. 
We saw many seals hauled out on rocks
Jackie reported that we were a bit early for orcas but that they had seen one a couple of days ago. "But you will see humpbacks as well as seals, eagles and a variety of other birds" she told us. The weather was our best day yet in Telegraph Cove and the sun was out for most of our trip. We headed across Johnstone Strait and wove through channels in the Plumper Islands before turning east into Blackfish Sound. The scenery was stellar with ever changing views of islands, ocean and tall snow capped mountains in the distance.
We saw humpbacks in scenic Blackfish Sound
About an hour into the tour we heard Jackie say that she had sited our first whales. We could see the blow of a distant humpback and as we neared the captain cut the engines so that we wouldn't disturb the whale as it was feeding. "At this time of year the whales are busy feeding and we think the main food source is small herring" said Jackie. It wasn’t long before we saw another humpback and then another way in the distance. By looking at photos that Jackie and others were taking she thought she could identify these whales as “Quartz” and “Ripple”.  Jackie was busy dashing between decks so that she could point out characteristics of each whale and had a binder of photos of all of the humpbacks they had seen in these waters. If that wasn’t enough at one point a couple of Dall porpoises circled around our boat with their high speed antics. But just try to get a photo of these animals which can swim at up to 55 km per hour.
The humpbacks would feed at the surface and then dive periodically
We spent about 90 minutes in this area watching the whales and at times the captain would reposition the tour boat to give a better view of what was going on. Then we headed around a flat rock covered with seals, then sailed through a narrow passage back into Johnstone Strait and began to make our way back to Telegraph Cove. We stopped in the sheltered waters of Bauze Cove  so that Jackie could sum up what we had seen that day and gave an impassioned  talk about general trends in whale populations and attitudes toward whales. "Do you realize that not long ago (in the 1960's) whales were hunted and killed by the thousands along the coast of B.C.  Also the levels of toxins today in the orcas that surround Vancouver Island is considerable.  We need to be very aware of what goes into our ocean ecosystem if these animals you are seeing today are going to survive.”  Stubbs Island Whale Watching puts on a great tour and we want to sail with them again to see orcas. For more information see:

Jackie did a end of trip talk at the front of the boat