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February 9th, 2011
February 9th, 2011

Canada: Stunning journey to edge of the world | by David Eames | January 13, 2011

Wildlife, thrilling scenery and art abound on Canadaīs Sunshine Coast, writes David Eames.

There are moments in a manīs life when he has to stand, square shouldered, and look his adversary in the eye.

But being confronted by a raccoon on a boardwalk in the Canadian forest is not one of them - raccoons are big up close and that black strip across their eyes makes them look criminal.

You soon realise animals hold sway in rural British Columbia. Everywhere are signposted warnings not to feed them or to watch out for wandering bears.

Itīs about then one realises, thereīs a food chain here, and humans arenīt always at the top. Weīre in BC for a 10-day roadtrip up the Sunshine Coast, down Vancouver Island and across Georgia Strait - via Saltspring and Pender islands - back to Vancouver city.

But whatīs that ... Sunshine Coast ... Canada ... in autumn?

Canada is not commonly associated with sunshine and this part of the country is just across the border from the Pacific Northwestīs most-famously-rainy city of Seattle.

The Sunshine Coast, however, is a bit special. The route runs some 180km from Howe Sound in the south to the aptly-named Desolation Sound up north.

It was named in the 1950s for its Mediterranean-style climate. The coast has a lower rainfall than the rest of BC and an average 231 sunshine days a year. Despite being accessible only by ferry, the area is a popular holiday spot for Canadians and Americans - at least it was until the financial crisis and more toughening of the border laws slowed the influx.

The 13-hour flight from Auckland is the best type to have - comfortable and uneventful, and collecting the rental in which we are to make the journey equally so.

A quick word on driving in Canada: it is not as difficult as you might think. Not only does Vancouver have a pretty good motorway, driving on the right-hand side seems easier when you actually have a steering wheel in front of you.

Our journey begins on the mainland Coast road - officially, Highway 101 - from just outside Gibson, a 45-minute ferry ride from the northern outskirts of Vancouver city.

Unfortunately, the climateīs hardly Mediterranean as we arrive at Rockwater Resort, about an hour north.

Itīs not raining, but when itīs howling a force 10, you donīt really want to be staying in a tent. Rockwater has a few of them, perched on a rocky promontory overlooking a deep, green sea.

Luckily, theyīre the last word in luxury. Basically, a house frame with removable canvas walls, the tent-houses have luxury baths, balconies and breathtaking views across the Georgia Strait.

Theyīre just the place to wash off a long flight and enjoy a nice bottle of Canadian red.

If thereīs one thing to watch out for, itīs the rice paper walls surrounding mission-critical areas such as the toilet. The Sunshine Coast is all about the outdoors and a good way to get the best view is to head hundreds of metres offshore. Youīll need a sea kayak for that and there are plenty of operators along the coast with rates starting from about $60 for a four-hour excursion.

Halfmoon Sea Kayaks operates out of Rockwater and offers a range of activities, from casual paddles along the coastline, to overnight trips, or longer.

Art is a big deal to the locals, and our car comes in handy for checking out a few of the more than 65 home studios and galleries dotted along the route.

A "Green Banner Route" provides a handy guide to all the great eateries and food vendors along the way, too.

Thereīs not a lot of traffic on Highway 101 and, before long, Iīm driving like a local - which is to say, slowly. Canada appears to have no set open-road speed limit, and one must drive to the posted signs, usually between 60km/h to 80km/h.

Itīs unbearable, but the snailīs pace does provides an opportunity to enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

BC Ferries run regular services throughout Georgia Strait and the Sunshine Coast, and travellers must catch one to reach the northern end of the coast road. As a rule, they are punctual and well staffed. The scenery only gets better once off the ferry and motoring towards Lund - the top of Route 101 - and the gateway to Desolation Sound.

Lund really does feel like a frontier town.

Thereīs a pub - which provides excellent accommodation - and a number of restaurants and takeaways supplying hearty tucker.

But the drawcard is Desolation Sound. The mouth of which sits just to the north of the village.

A tour of the sound is compulsory and utterly worthwhile.

Mountains erupt silently from the cold, black waters of the sound, with each one apparently trying to outdo its neighbour in height.

Itīs said Desolation - a favourite stopover for boaties cruising the Pacific Northwest - is the location of the steepest drop from mountain peak to sea floor in North America.

I donīt know if thatīs true, but Desolation Sound makes you feel like youīre standing on the edge of the world.

Thereīs a number of gated communities just inside the sound, home to wealthy Vancouverites, and Seattle millionaires - but the well-manicured properties soon disappear to make way for miles and miles of trees that seem to - and probably do - stretch all the way to Alaska.

One can only imagine the men who carve out a life among those peaks and valleys.

Theyīll be tough, bearded, wilderness types, who drive pick-ups and when they get together, drink beer and talk about grizzlies, elk and sock-eye salmon.

Actually, wild animals are a popular topic of conversation for people all along the Sunshine Coast, whether itīs tales of deer destroying carefully-tended vegetable plots, speculation on the salmon run, or yarns about bears wandering from the forest to ransack a rubbish bin.

Generally, weīre told, black bears inhabit the lower areas and coastline, leaving the wild interior to the larger, more temperamental grizzlies. Every so often, a grizzly will venture into town having navigated its way down forestry tracks.

Usually, they are tranquillised and helicoptered back into the hinterland.

From Lund, itīs a short hop back to Powell River, to catch a ferry to Comox/Little River, Vancouver Island.


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