Roger reports regularly from around the world for us. His latest contribution is the second half of an enviable and eventful Canadian adventure that began here…
Those first 10 days through the Rockies were exhilarating: Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper were all incredibly exciting and memorable. The final part of our Rocky Mountaineer GoldLeaf service was a taxi to the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel.
We stayed 5 nights on Vancouver's vibrant harbour in a Deluxe Harbour View room which was immensely spacious with breath-taking views of Coal Harbour and the Canada Place ferry terminal against the snowy backdrop of the North Shore Mountains. It is worth joining the Fairmont President's Club, which is free online, as you get free internet.
Heavy rain next morning led us to explore the Canada Place building: a convention centre, luxury hotel, terminal for Alaska bound ferries, an excellent food hall and the 4-D FlyOver Canada simulated flight ride.
We experienced this must-see exhilarating virtual flight, feeling the wind and watery mist as you fly across spectacular sights. Again, the staff were very helpful and efficient assisting me into my 'motion' seat.
Our location was ideal for places of interest; the waterfront is level and the nearby city roads gently slope up towards numerous shops, bars and restaurants. We returned to the hotel for a very pleasant happy hour which progressed into 3 hours of socialising whilst enjoying local craft beer, fish and chicken platters with live music.
The tourist 'hop on' hop off' sightseeing bus is not accessible, but local buses are cheap and have ramps. We took the short walk to the bus station and purchased a local ticket ($4.50 for 2) to Granville Island, a peninsula and shopping district, located across False Creek, under the Granville Street Bridge.
On a warm day we walked through the public market, before sitting on the bustling quayside with a coffee and sushi watching an array of talented local buskers. We took the accessible Aquabus, a water taxi service around False Quay ($12) and later stopped for a beer at the acclaimed waterfront Bridges Bar.
We decided to return on the Aquabus and disembarked at Yaletown, downtown Vancouver, walking through parkland towards the chicest area of shops and restaurants, onto the the poorer neighbourhood of Eastside until we reached Gastown at 4pm as a crowd gathered to watch the ancient steam-powered clock chime.
Highly recommended is the Cactus Bar, opposite our hotel; it proved to be yet another highlight of our trip as we experienced fabulous unobstructed views over the waterfront whilst enjoying Hunter Chicken and an incredible 12oz peppercorn steak, finished off with cheesecake!
The wonderful sunny and warm weather continued the following day as we walked along the sea wall, as cycles and skaters whizzed past, towards the iconic Stanley Park. The 9km popular pathway has fabulous views of the inlet and passes through the forest and famous landmarks. We stopped after half an hour, just past the Aquarium, knowing that we would drive another section on our way to Whistler.
At midday we took an hour-long accessible Harbour Cruise before walking back to the Lift Restaurant; we sat outside, elevated above the water, overlooking a yacht club and seaplanes, eating a Canadian favourite: lobster cheese mac.
In the evening we lounged around the hotel's rooftop pool (above) with magnificent views in all directions, including the Vancouver Revolving Tower.
Our last day began at the waterfront for breakfast and to take in the wonderful environment one last time.
For our last evening we reserved dinner at the Lookout Revolving Restaurant: a short walk from the hotel, with a glass elevator, we had Lobster bisque, seafood provencal, rack of lamb with wine and beer while overlooking Vancouver as the dining area revolved 360 degrees.
The 122km drive to Whistler takes you on the famous Sea-to-Sky corridor (Highway 99) through a forested area of Stanley Park and the outskirts of Vancouver town, over Lion's Gate Bridge, onto Marine Drive past Horseshoe Bay and Squamish.
We were on the 'other' side of the road and it was cloudy so we didn't see much of the famed lakes and mountain views - fortunately, we made up for it on the return journey.
The Chateau at Whistler (above) has the same Fairmont facade as many in Canada (such as Lake Louise and Empress at Victoria) and staff are as welcoming and helpful as ever. Our car was valet parked and our Deluxe Room had views of the trees in the valley.
That night we sat by the log fire in the Mallard Lounge with a bottle of wine and some beers. We were totally relaxed as we consumed the generous offerings of complimentary nibbles and listened to a local singer guitarist. By the time we sat down in the Wildflower Restaurant, we struggled to eat the clam chowder, enormous slow roast prime rib and scallop carbonara.
In the hotel lower lobby, facing a quiet tree-lined street, is the Portobello Cafe where we ate breakfast before making the short walk across a main road to the lower village. We took the $52 (carer free) ride on the magnificently accessible Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Peak-to-Peak Gondola.
There was still snow on the upper slopes and many mountain bikers lower down; at the end of the ski season the roads are awash with vehicles carrying bikes from great distances to this area. The zipwires are also very popular and daring. From both gondolas there are mouth-watering views of snow covered mountains and turquoise lakes, and even the chance to see bears feeding on the berry bushes.
We regret not coming here years ago with the kids when we both skied. At the top, as many skiers do, we had hot chocolate in the Blackcomb Peak cafe before taking another gondola to Whistler.
Abbotts had pre-booked a Bear Viewing tour; we left at 6pm, I was lifted into a jeep for the 3 hour drive up both mountains with our local guide, Geoff, who was very knowledgeable and caring of the animals and the environment - another example of coexistence which many Canadians buy into - and he knew the best areas where chances of seeing wildlife were high.
We had several up-close bear sightings of mums, dads and girlfriends (he even knew their names: Mia and Smiley) and we were extremely fortunate to get a rare sighting of a white black bear cub - possibly an albino.
The next day was cloudy so after a late breakfast Jane had a massage in the hotel spa whilst I was given delicious complimentary homemade chocolate and coffee in the lounge. After which we relaxed around the indoor spa pools before moving to the 5 outdoor pools as the sun broke through.
By the time we made our way inside to the famous Fairmont Friday happy hour, the lounge and garden were heaving with local youngsters and the barman just managed to get us a seat. The local singer/ guitarist was very popular and whilst she played, waitresses served copious amounts of half price beer and cocktails with complimentary nibbles until about 7.30pm.
Next day, we checked out early for the 170km drive to Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, south of Vancouver. It was a warm day with a cloudless sky and we experienced incredible mountain and lake vistas on the Sea to Sky Route (pictured above). We stopped frequently at the viewpoints to take pictures, and pulled into the picturesque town of Horseshoe Bay, with cafes full of tourists overlooking the boats and harbour with a mountain backdrop.
Our route took us back through Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver - really the only time we experienced dense traffic throughout the entire trip - across several districts, past the airport to the Ferry Terminal, where we were given 'Blue Badge' priorities: a separate car lane, large parking area on board at the front of the boat and close to the lift. We settled on the quiet port side of the upper deck, facing the blazing sun for the 90-minute crossing.
The journey reminded us of The Cook Straights in New Zealand: tree-covered islands with isolated holiday homes and private moorings, plus the now familiar glorious backdrop of snowy mountains in the distance.
At 4pm, after a straightforward drive on Vancouver Island we reached the wonderfully located Fairmont Empress in Victoria. The car was valet parked and at check in we were informed of our Fairmont Gold booking! This involves a personal concierge on call for all questions, a private lounge with views of the inner harbour, complimentary breakfast in the lounge, afternoon appetisers at 6pm and patisseries at 9pm.
Early Saturday evening, we went for a walk to explore the bustling waterfront - literally across the road. There is a lift from street level to the promenade at the Whale Watching tourist office and the staff there are extremely helpful towards wheelchair users.
The bars, boats, Aquabuses and water taxis were all bristling with trade on this sunny, warm evening. We ensured I would be able to get on the Aquabus before buying a ticket for the twilight inner harbour tour after returning for sustenance of free appetisers in the Gold lounge.
When we returned to the waterfront the buskers were in full swing: bands, acrobats, magicians and escapologists drew large crowds. The sun was still strong when I was lifted onto the boat by two senior boatmen. There were 12 on the 'bus' and we were given a commentary throughout the 45-minute journey around the inner harbour pointing out the expensive waterfront condominiums, yachts, naval yard, floating homes on Fisherman's Wharf and different types of bird life.
A long day ended with coffee and pastries in the Gold lounge looking out at the illuminated Cathedral which majestically overlooks the harbour.