We arrived in Vancouver (via a 36 hour detour to Hawaii) on the 3rd March. After enjoying the Australian summer this was the first time in a while we’d felt a cold chill in the air, and to be honest it felt so lovely and fresh. This was my first time in Canada and I was excited to explore!
Travelling from the airport to the city was easy, you just need to go to follow signs to the train, buy your compass card and top up before the gate, board a train and it takes you all the way to the center of the city. In our case we went to ‘Vancouver City Centre Station’ which is just a 5 minute walk to our Hostel, Samesun.
Everyone had recommended Samesun hostel to me before we arrived. It seems to be the best place to go if you’re looking to either move to Vancouver or you simply want a base to explore Vancouver. And I agree! For people just wanted to see what’s around Vancouver, Samesun offer daily tours, they’re free with just the price of travel. Daily tours make it super easy to see the sights, with minimal effort – tours are seasonal but the ones we did were Bowen Island, Lynn Canyon, Capilano Bridge, Granville Market and Gastown & Chinatown Walking Tour. Some we did via the hostel, some we did ourselves. If you want to know more about my top Vancouver recommendations then you can find them here. If you’re looking to move to Vancouver, well, this hostel is your chance to make friends and get settled – after spending 2 solid weeks here, we met some of the most lovely people – some who work at the hostel, some who were just settling in and were job hunting. If you just hang around long enough and do enough meer-cating, you’ll make friends. I think the only thing Samesun did not offer was a how to travel Canada/the west coast, they have Moose Travels (which offers tours) during peak seasons in reception but otherwise Google (or my blog) is your friend.
As we made our way out and up of the subway the ‘fresh smell’ we found when we first arrived at the airport quickly turned stale. In Downtown Vancouver, it smelt like like what you would expect in Amsterdam and we were actually surprised by this because it was just 7am.
After dropping our bags off in the hostel, we decided that today we would treat ourselves to buying breakfast. Treating ourselves to eat out during our travels is a big deal! Stu and I have a travel budget to work with and to travel longer, the plan was to cook in hostel kitchens as often as we could so we could make our money last longer. So with this rare occasion, the brief to the lovely girl on the hostel reception desk was… if you were going to eat Breakfast out once near by, where would you recommend?
The Elbow Room:
She described ‘The Elbow Room’ as a place that’s “a bit extra”. We had no idea what “a bit extra’ meant, but we were intrigued. I won’t give away any secrets, but if you’re in Vancouver and if you fancy a breakfast experience that’s different but also a filling meal, then go to The Elbow Room! You can even get pancakes with maple syrup if you fancy a ‘traditional Canadian dish’.
560 Davie St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2G4, Canada
Our Introduction to Vancouver:
The next day we decided to easiest way to explore the city would be to go on the first free hostel walking tour which took us around Gastown and Chinatown.
Our tour gave us a chance to chat to some people staying at our hostel, mostly Jo. Prior to this walk I had met Jo the night before in the kitchen (hostel kitchen’s really are a great place to meet people). Jo’s a photographer from Torquay near Melbourne and she was here to teach surf in Tofino – which was awesome!! After meeting Jo it was clear that we would all get along and she had just arrived in Vancouver too. After we’d sorted all of life’s lovely life admin’s SIM cards, bank accounts we started to plan what else we wanted to see in Vancouver.
So Jo, Stu and I decided we’d organise a day each…
Stu’s Fun Day out: Capilano Suspension Bridge & the Cleveland Dam
Top Top 1 & 2: There’s a free shuttle bus you can take from downtown to Capilano Bridge. We got the bus from the first stop the Hyatt Recency and whilst Stu popped in to ask the reception desk where the bus leaves from, they gifted him with a 10% off entry voucher.
Top Tip 3: If you’re a resident in Vancouver (or if you plan to be and you have proof, e.g a phone bill, or something with your address) you can get an annual pass to Capilano Bridge to return as often as you want for the same price as one entry. Entry was $43 – which we personally felt was too expensive.
The large suspension bridge was amazing, but it was busy and full of tourists. There’s more smaller bridges to look around which I think is fun for young children, but we found it average. We wanted to wonder around to get our money’s worth, but the bridge is the best part.
Once we were done, Stu had found a 1-2 hour round trip trek from the Bridge to Cleveland Dam – I’d recommend this walk because it’s a nice medium walk through the forest on a path, you’ll follow a nice stream all the way up to Cleveland Dam. Behind the Cleveland Dam is easily missed, but here you’ll get this view…
After this, we walked back to the bridge entrance to get the free shuttle bus back. No ticket needed, just jump on board.
Jo’s Fun Day out: Renting Bikes and exploring Stanley Park & Kitsilano
The sun was shining, it was a glorious day and we got up early in the search of bikes. Bike rental was $28 for the day. The bike shop was near the Science Museum, so it was a good place to start because you’re just a few streets away from the bike path that hugs the waterfront.
The ride seems far but once you’re at the waterfront, it’s easy to ride all the way to Stanley Park where you can see these sights and ride the seawall.
If you are going to explore Stanley Park, then I really recommend you do this by bike.
After exploring the park, the beaches and getting lost in Stanley Park forest, we attempted to make our way to Kitsilano. ‘Kits’ was widely disucssed in the hostel as the ‘cool, but expensive’ area of town to live. But I highly recommend taking a trip over for the afternoon. It was easy to get to, we just followed the seawall and went over a bridge and we were able to park our bikes up at Kitsilano Beach then walked up to town before finishing the day at 49th Parrell for coffee and donuts (highly recommend!)
An impromptu day – Thrifting with Chris
So the day after our bike ride, it rained. Which was a blessing in disguise because 1) I hadn’t planned my day our yet and 2) we were all pretty tired from the hike and the bike ride. So we decided to chill out at the hostel and just see where the day took us.
Whilst we all lounged about in the hostel, we met Chris a writer from New York. Chris was by far most stylish person I’ve ever met in a hostel – he was there by accident and we’re so glad we met because he took Jo and I under his wing to show us the best Thrift shops in Vancouver.
Vancouver has some pretty cool thrift shops, Jo found some vintage Levi mom jeans for $18/£9 and Chris, looking amazing in everything found an assortment of high-waisted trousers. I didn’t buy any clothes but I did find a Lonely Planet ‘West Canada’ guide for $10/£5 – super helpful for the next 3 months.
The day was going so well, until it wasn’t.
It was still raining and we were all huddled under umbrella’s and about to venture over to thrift shop number 4 when we saw a huddled group of homeless people outside it. As we went closer we couldn’t quite believe what we saw. It was a body under a white sheet with boots sticking out with police near by closing the area. We couldn’t quite believe what we saw! We didn’t have much time to think in the situation, we all just stepped back, veered left which took us to the alley next to the overdose centre, which was not a recommended part of town you want to be in even on a sunny day. We were all so shocked and confused that we kept on walking. We decided to stop shopping for the day, met up with Stu, grabbed some food and headed home.
We didn’t see any news reports on the incident, but staff at the hostel that we spoke to suggested that with the amount of drugs and homelessness in that area of town – it might have been an overdose. 😦
Anne’s Day out: “I just wanted to paint mugs”
After what we’d seen the day before, and after two full days out exploring I really wanted to get creative and do an indoors activity and relax. Apparently this was not an option.
The guys were keen to get out of Vancouver, a hire car and to do a good hike. So I decided not to be an old lady and to actual plan something as great as the past 2 days.
A hire car was about $100 so between 5 +petrol wasn’t too bad. However, Stu had to catch a bus to near the airport to collect it. Note: Cars are cheaper to hire from the airport in comparison to the city.
Hike wise, I found the ‘Sea to Summit’ hike which online, looked amazing. I completely misread and misjudged this. For some reason, my brain thought sit was a short scenic walk. It looked like it would start with lots of stairs followed by a forest walk to the top which you can get a gondola down for $15. I thought it would take 3 hours max. But with only an evening to plan, I just winged it and thought ‘how hard can it be’?
So as we arrived and parked up, I saw a sign that summarised the walk. It turns out, the walk is classed ‘moderate/advanced’ and it’s a 3-5 hour walk. The last Gondola was also at 5pm and it was 11.30am at the time.
We headed up the long, long staircase and followed the path that lead us into the woods we started to see snow and ice everywhere. We did not expect this and we were definitely not dressed for it.
The walk felt like it was taking forever. We walked for 2.5 hours and only reached half way. We needed to get to the top by 5pm as that was the last gondola down so we trekked as quick as we could with no stops.
I struggled, a lot. I complained, a lot. And all I could think was ‘I just wanted to paint mugs’.
We saw only a handful of people whilst on the walk, mainly hill runners that passed us who looked amused that 5 under dressed people were on the hike. We kept going and eventually hit more and more snow.
When we hit the top, it felt like it was worth it. The view was incredible and the suspension bridge was so much better than Capilano (possibly because I felt like I’d earned it). As we were buying our tickets down, the staff member looked happy to see us. She had been told ‘there are 5 tourists who are clearly struggling on the walk up – you need to wait for them to finish’. A kind hill runner had given the staff warning that we might not make it – which was actually brilliant.
This was by far the hardest walk I’ve ever done, but I’m really glad I did it. Apparently in the summer, it’s much easier!
The next week in Vancouver just flew by, we started to make more and more friends from all around the world whilst trying to plan what we were going to do for the next 9 weeks. Stu and I decided, we weren’t going to work after all. Instead, we were just going to explore West Canada – so whilst I planned a rough route, during the day time we did more day tours and just got to know people – which is probably my favourite part of Vancouver.
After a couple weeks with some amazing people we said goodbye to the hostel with two new travel companions, Tobi and Andy.
We met Tobi, a lovely German Engineer when he joined our 4 bed dorm room after the first week. Tobi was in Canada for 3 months to travel and to do ‘woofing’ – where you can basically work without a visa and earn your food and bed by working.
Andy, I adopted in the kitchen of the hostel after I found him trying to fry dry potatoes. Funnily enough, Andy is from the same hometown as Stu and I. Andy used to work down the road from my family home during our teen years with a lot of my school friends and Andy has worked for the past few years NEXT DOOR to Stu’s office. Small world.
All 4 of us had the same plan – we wanted to travel West Canada, but none of us actually had a set plan to we joined forces. BEST DECISION EVER!!!
NEXT STOP, Squamish:
Squamish is just an hour from Vancouver, just up the road from the Sea to Summit walk we did the week before – so not far at all, and not somewhere we expected to visit whilst in Canada.
Squamish is famous being close to ‘The Chief’ which is a 3 peak hike, there’s also so many other hikes and watersports you can do near by. You can get assistance from via the Visitor Centre in Squamish but it was clear that most of their recommendations are only assessable if you have a car. We didn’t.
We stayed at The Adventure Inn and The Chief was a 45 minute walk from our hostel so we headed there.
‘The Chief’ starts from the same car park as the ‘Sea to Summit’, which brought back lots of nice memories of snow, ice and sorrow. Honestly, I just wanted to get this hike over with and I wasn’t too bothered if I completed all 3 peaks – my goal was to complete one as I didn’t want to hold the guys back. I’m just not as great at hiking as I was in 2015 – and I was more than happy to let the boys do their thing whilst I had admin to do – planning Stu’s 30th!
I completed peak one, but barely. As I got to the top, the clouds gathered and I saw – NOTHING.
So I said goodbye to the guys and I started to walk down. As I did, I met an American tourist who was also heading down – he had a bad knee, so he let his friend continue on. After 45 minutes of talking, and realising he wasn’t a murderer I accepted a free ride home to the hostel. WIN!
The next day, I bought some $15 hiking boots from the Thrift store and spend far too much time in Zephur Cafe – I was editing Stu’s birthday video and also planning what we’d do (details to follow in future blogs).
Would I recommend Squamish? Yes and no. If you’re short on time and you don’t have a car, no. But if it’s the summer and you have a hire car, yes. There’s kayaking, hikes and you’re surrounded by mountains. It’s a peaceful town and it’s in the middle of Whistler and Vancouver – so a good base.
We got to Squamish and to Whistler via a ‘Poparide‘, which is a ride share app. We really liked this app and we hope it gets more popular because it saved us money and was so much easier than a Greyhound. 9 times out of 10 we got door to door transport, which was great considering Stu and I weren’t prepared for backpacking – we brought suitcases (as we expected to work).
Our aim for Whistler was simple – just get there, then figure out what to do in Whistler. Everyone goes to Ski or Snowboard, however it’s not cheap. You have to hire gear, have waterproof clothing, googles, gloves AND to have to have a ski pass to get up the gondola’s. So on our arrival, our next plan was even simpler. Show there’s more to do in Whistler than the ‘traditional’ Skiing and Snowboarding.
We were reunited here with Charlotte (from Sydney), who we’d met in Vancouver (scroll up and look for the girl with the red hair on Bowen Island). I adopted Charlotte during the Lynn Canyon day tour – Charlotte’s a nurse, loves dogs and gets to fly super cheap because her dad works for Qantas *sigh*. We all stayed in the HI Hostel in the Olympic Village where we met David from New Zealand who was settling in before starting a ski season working in Whistler.
The next 3 days we covered the following activities:
- Hiked to the Train Wreck
- Cross-Country Skiing
- World’s Fastest Bob Sleigh
The Train Wreck:
The train wreck is a must see in my opinion. In 1956 a train was travelling too fast and derailed – the carriages ended up in the Cheakamus river and eventually made their way down stream. In the last 10 years Whistler council decided to move the carriages slightly (to allow for tree regrowth) and invite graffiti artists – so it’s now a free outdoor art gallery. In 2016 a suspension bridge was put in to create easy access to site.
Now this was a new unique experience which you can do as a day activity. It looks like skiing, but I would describe it was walking/gliding on flat ground or small hills, on thin ski’s. It’s a full body work out to be completely honest and I loved it.
We paid $109 for a lesson, ski and pole hire and a ski pass for the day. Which I think is great value for money considering how pricey Whistler is to ski/snowboard.
So it was a fun, challenging day and it was Stu’s first time on ski’s. We went around a lake and went on the green and blue runs.
World’s Fastest Bob Sleigh:
So in 2010, Whistler hosted the Winter Olympics and now the bob sleigh is open to the public. The bob sleigh takes teams of 3 and you’re joined by a pilot who steers and you’ll travel at 125 kilometers per hour. At a steep $189 dollars for one ride, Stu, Tobi and I decided it wasn’t for us but we were keen to see Charlotte and Andy do it.
Whilst Andy and Charlotte were getting their induction with a room filled with other people it was announced that one bobsleigh needed 1 person to fill it and a discount would be offered. Up went Stu’s hand and he received 50% off – a handy discount tip for anyone wanting to do it, stick around the centre for the day and wait for an empty spot.
Our last activity was tubing, which is another fun activity I’d recommend because you basically feel like a kid for an hour or so. We purchased 2 hour tickets as it’s just around $5 for the extra hour ($29 in total). You have the option of 2 sections and I stuck to the beginner runs.
Personally, I’d recommend this because I got 8 runs in total and the others got 4 because of queueing – which was a problem on the day as many people queue jump. I’m really sad I didn’t witness the queue jumping or the heated argument between Charlotte and a Spanish family.
If I was going to give any tips for people heading to Whistler on a budget, I’d advise:
- Over eating Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies at Purebread (so good!!! If you go this year, say hi to Sarah)
- Enjoying meals at El Furniture Warehouse at only $5.99 a meal.
Overall, the first 3 week’s of Canada were incredible and travelling was easy. Squamish and Whistler are just up the road from Vancouver so they could easily be weekend trips for locals.
Our next plan was to go back to Vancouver, and then head to Vancouver Island which will be the next blog.
Hope you enjoyed this essay of a blog, in case you didn’t read it and skipped ahead, here’s the first 3 weeks in Canada in a 3 minute photo, Boomerang and insta-story montage.
Special mention to the guys I didn’t get a chance to talk about in details Simon, Cara James, Victoria, Maggie, Karl, Averil, Benji, Harj and Tanja!!