Canada has always been a place on our bucket list, however this trip wasn’t going to be able to afford the time and money to properly explore it. Luckily for us, two things work in our favour here; flights from Auckland to the West Coast of North America are pretty cheap, and some good friends, Guy, Emily & Andrew, recently moved there on a working holiday. So, Vancouver made our list as the first stop.
We were both lucky and unlucky with the timing of our visit – it was Labor weekend, meaning our friends had time off Sunday & Monday to show us the city. However the following three days saw Vancouver blanketed in smoke due to wildfires in neighbouring Washington State.
For anyone who hasn’t been to Vancouver, it is a pretty incredible city. As we have said, we were fortunate enough to have friends in the city, who put us up for the six nights we were staying. Not only this, but they live very central, in apartments above Rogers Arena (Canucks Stadium). This gave us the ability to basically walk and bike wherever we pleased. The city is also really easy to get around by bus and ferry by just grabbing a compass card when you arrive.
What really sold us on Vancity was how cycle-friendly it is, and how accessible the Canadian wilderness is, not taking any longer than an hour by public transport to reach some incredible spots. A perfect example of this accessibility is Pool 88, a ‘public’ swimming hole located on Riverside Drive in Lynn Valley. Now, we say ‘public’ because while it isn’t necessary illegal for the public to access this area, locals have expressed dismay at the hordes of people who converge on the valley to spend summer days here. So, in order to access it, we had to scale a 10ft gate, that blatantly said no access. It was pretty obvious by the number of people there that no one really cared about the gate.
Pool 88 was a great way to spend Labor Day. Relaxing in icy Canadian water in some tubes, eating a few CostCo snags off a charcoal burner, and of course a few brews, made for an excellent day.
We also ventured out to Grouse Mountain, however, to save a long-winded explanation, we didn’t head up. We had been told we had to do it, the views are incredible, and there are some great trails. And, of course, there is the Grouse Grind, which for those Hamiltonians out there is about twice as long and twice as hard as the Hakirimatas near Ngaruawahia. Anyway, as we mentioned, Vancouver was blanketed in smoke for the majority of our ‘tourist’ time in the city. However, Guy & Emily assured us their local’s passes could give us access up the mountain, meaning despite a lack of views, we wouldn’t be put out financially. Although, when we got there, Murphy’s Law had it’s way and we were denied by the staff. After some discussion regarding the $90 CAD it would cost to go up, and the idea of doing the Grouse Grind in borderline attire, we decided to head back in to the city.
Vancouver is full of dedicated cycle paths, which proved pretty essential to our first day (well, Jonny’s first day). Due to some ‘unfortunate’ timing, Guy & Andrew had a pre-season rugby team bonding session, which involved getting dressed up in cycling kit, jumping on a bike and heading around the various breweries Vancouver has to offer.
The Pacific Northwest of North America has a strong microbrewery scene, and it was pretty awesome for Jonny to be able to hit all the major Vancouver options first thing. Among those visited was Powell’s, Strathcona, Red Truck, Granville Island, Andina and a few more. As you can imagine, things were pretty hectic with 30-odd cycling-clad rugby-lads riding around metro-Vancouver after a few brews. One thing we will say is that craft beer here is extremely affordable compared to that of NZ, often coming in cheaper than major brands like Corona or Heineken for a six pack.
While Jonny, Guy and Andrew were off galavanting about Vancouver and surrounds, Emily took Alex to the Granville Island markets, and an outdoor cinema viewing of Beauty & the Beast in North Van. Needless to say Alex was provided with some pretty awesome views on the sea bus of both skylines.
Getting back to the cycling, we spent a day riding the picturesque sea-wall from downtown Vancouver, and around Stanley Park. This park (Vancouver’s answer to Central Park in NY) gives you the illusion you aren’t even in the city, with a great set of winding wild trails to explore, small food concessions and boutique eateries. This was easily one of our best days in the city, as the smoky haze didn’t really effect our ride.
From the entrance to Stanley park, the sea-wall ride was about 9km of sealed flat cycle path. At almost anywhere on the path you can head inland and explore the numerous wooded cycle and hiking tracks. We parked our bikes up at Third beach and hiked down Lover’s trail to Beaver Lake. The lake itself didn’t have a beaver insight (and actually very minimal lake) but the hike there was stunning. As mentioned above, it was a surreal feeling to be in the middle of a dense forest just minutes from the city.
On our last day, we were fortunate enough to land a tour with ‘Andy’, a local tour guide who was relatively fresh on the scene. He reassured us that despite his relative inexperience, he was confident that about ‘65% of his facts were accurate’. Andy told us about Vancouver’s historic Gastown, and how ‘Gassy Jack’ was the entrepreneur who saw the opportunity to develop a small pub scene as close as he legally could to the dock.
He took us on a route that demonstrated just how quickly and almost seamlessly Vancouver’s small districts change, from Downtown, to Gastown, Chinatown, the suburbs (Strathcona) into the industrial district. Visitors should be warned that in some areas, there is a strong ‘junkie’ presence, with lots of homeless doing heroin. This was a bit confronting as kiwis but they are in their own world and harmless, just an FYI. Overall, ‘Andy’ got a solid 5/7 in our books.
As with all big cities, every person with a computer seems to have posted their “must-eat” place in the city. However, our kiwi friends in the city come from a long line of food-enthusiasts, so we left it up to them to show us what delicacies Vancity has to offer. Number one of the list was Sushi Den, located a few minutes from Rogers Stadium. This place hasn’t made to any TripAdvisor or Yelp top-rated, but if you re after cheap, delicious sushi it is worth a visit. For five of us, we ate copious amounts of fresh delicious sushi for around $15 each including tax & tip. Our faves dishes included the salmon sashimi and the “thank-you” roll.
Our Vancity hosts also took us to Score, a local pub & eatery that does Wing Wednesdays (half priced wings), coming in at about $6 CAD per pound of wings. Our last night was an absolute treat, heading to a Japanese BBQ called Gyu-Koku, which does discounted drinks and food after 9pm most nights.
Alex is an aspiring herbivore and loved the vegan and vegetarian options vancouver had to offer. Our friends (and the internet) raved about MeeT and it definitely lived up to its reputation. If you are after tasty vegan food, this Gastown establishment is worth a visit. Slightly more expensive than other lunches in the city, but worth every cent.
While wandering around Canada Place, we stumbled across The Happy Chickpea. This was Alex’s highlight food wise. It is a vegan food truck, that seems to regularly park up there. They offer pitas, plates and platters of delicious vegan food for $10-$13, and a platter (plus a Tim Horton’s bagel) was enough to feed both Jonny & Alex.
Vancouver was amazing. If it wasn’t for the smokey haze that donned the city for 3/5 of the days spent there, I imagine it would have been a pretty big benchmark set for the rest of our trip.
Coffee Spot – Birds & Beets (close to Gassy Jack statue)
Cheap Eat – CostCo Food Court (by Rogers Arena)
Highlight – Stanley Park
Wish we did – Grouse Mountain (on a clear day)
At the end of each post we thought we would give a quick overview of what it costs to visit the destination. Vancouver is a weird one as we were lucky enough to have free accomodation, an ate out probably more than we usually would as we were there to spend time with friends. Our transport costs are also skewed due to our Guy & co often eating Car2Go or Evo cars to nip around the city.
For the sake of comparability we will state all our costs in USD. The costs below are a total for two of us.
Accommodation: $0 / day
Food: $50/ day
Transport: $12 / day
Activities: $6.40 / day
Total: $342 USD / $469 NZD