Flashback: Stanley Park – Vancouver

About 10 weeks ago I started the “flashback” article which were supposed to run weekly to provide content during what was a busy time for me. Unfortunately for you guys, it turned out to be alot busier than I thought, so this weekend’s article, which should have been the last in the series, is actually only part 2. So while I gather inspiration in the national capital for more story ideas, here is the second flashback from amazingly spectacular Vancouver.

Spectacular, beautiful, gorgeous, breathtaking and amazing are all words that I have used to describe the city of Vancouver. If you haven’t been there, add it to the list of places you must visit as you wont regret it. In this flashback article I’ll take you to one of the highlights of the city, Stanley Park.

Stanley Park is 1000 acres of urban parkland situated on a peninsula right next to the downtown area (it was like 15 minutes walk tops – about as far as Flagstaff station to the docklands in Melbourne – but the end result is so much nicer).I took the advice of the guide book and walked down to Denham street (which is sort of the last main north south street in the downtown area) and hired a bike from Spokes Bicycle Rentals. I found it really interesting how the downtown area quickly changed from office blocks and shops to tree lined medium density residential area before opening back up to a suburban high street style area in the West End.

Although I followed the guide book suggestion, there are heaps of bike rental places around, including ones that rent out collapsable fold up bikes (Although I remembered a comedy skit where they joked about accidently bumping the fold up button while riding and then going arse over, so I decided to go for a standard bike). In all honesty, although the guidebook brought me to the area, I picked the rental shop with the hot guy, which happened to match the guidebooks suggestion, and at $30 including tax for a half day rental (up to 6 hours) I thought it was well worth it. The rental comes complete with a helmet, a bike lock and, if my memory is correct, a map of the area.

So with all I needed for the day, I mounted my stylish city bike and headed off towards the Stanley Park Sea wall bike bath (which was half a block away). The day before I had my first experience driving a car on the wrong side of the road and thought that was a challenge, although now on the 2 wheels with nothing but my jeans and jumper for protection, the car experience felt like a walk in the park. Fortunately the bike shops are all located a stones throw from the start of the trail so I was off the road and onto the bike path in under a minute. If you’re thinking you need to be mega athletic (like everyone in Vancouver appears to be) to do this ride, think again. You’ll find that the paths are relatively flat (we’re following at sea level after all) and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be stopping at every corner to take in the amazing views of the city, north Vancouver, mountains, the ocean and the park (and of course take happy snaps).

The route I’m taking wraps around the massive park that is Stanley park and consists mainly of the sea wall track. To make it easier, and safer, the sea wall is one way only for bike riders and roller bladers (anti clockwise) and surprisingly everyone obeys this rule (I did not see a single person going the wrong way around). In some parts the path gets a bit narrow too so its just as well. It only took a few minutes (and about half a dozen photo stops) and I was at my first stop at the totem poles. Growing up in Australia, totem poles aren’t something you really see everyday (well at least not where I grew up) so to me these were a new experience. The hard carved poles have all been rebuilt over the last 40 years or so after the original white settlers arrived in Vancouver subsequently banned the aboriginals traditions, which was supposed to encourage them to adopt the western way (A pretty common theme in most countries sadly). To assist in this westernisation, most of the original totem poles were destroyed, deteriorated or were sold to museums around the world, thus the local people were without these symbolic icons for many years. The totems that stand in Stanley Park today have been re carved and represent a welcoming from the traditional land owners, the Coast Salish people.

As the school tour buses arrived, I opted to get back on the bike and back to the sea wall route. With a slight bit of backtracking, I got a photo of Deadman Island, a Canadian naval base. Although not very big at all, and from the outset doesn’t appear to be very actively naval it was apparently acquired by the Navy as a temporary base during a war and the Navy have just never given it back. The historic looking building looks great from a distance but as its a restricted area you cant go in and check it out. I’m not sure what the navy do on the island today, as even a small navy ship is bigger than the island, but from a tourist perspective its a pretty building in the foreground of a great view of the Vancouver skyline.

Following the trail round you get Brocken Point which was great views over North Vancouver and the Lions Gate Suspension Bridge and Lighthouse. According to the sign at the base of the lighthouse the currents and rocks make the passage quite dangerous. The bridge is pretty cool too.. its like a blue version of what I’d imagine the golden gate bridge to look like. I late discovered that the middle lane of the bridge changes direction about once every 90 seconds, which was very interesting discovery during a bus trip the following day. Back on the ride, at every turn along the bike track there is another awesome view. My camera has an auto panorama function which has been getting a work out today.

I detoured off the path at the children’s water playground (which fortunately was not in operation as the cool wind off the water was freezing) and headed into the park to see the Vancouver Aquarium. There were heaps of school kids here, and I don’t know if it was just them being annoying, but the aquarium didn’t really do it for me. The Melbourne and Sydney aquariums are much nicer, and have better exhibits. Nevertheless I spent about an hour and a half wandering around the tanks and checking it all out. I saw the beluga whales (white whales) which was pretty cool, although I think animals of that size shouldn’t be kept in pools – although they were active and seemed content.

There was also a sea world style dolphin show which was aimed at an educational theme however I don’t think any of the hundreds of school kids listened to a word the guy was saying. They were just excited each time a dolphin did a jump. It was a good little show but again, the tank seemed too small for the 3 resident dolphins when you compare it to sea world. They also had a 4D cinema experience which was about 20mins of an episode of Planet Earth (BBC) series with water sprayed in your face. The outdoor amazon rain forest enclosure was good – mainly because it was heated to amazon temperatures so I warmed up in there before heading back onto the bike again. Obviously you don’t know what things are like without going, but the $22 entry was a bit steep for what they had on offer – Sorry Aquarium folk.

It was a very short ride through the park to find the mini railway that I wanted to see. Unfortunately it and the neighbouring children’s farm were closed for the day. Being such a large park, even though it is so close to an urban environment, the park is host to its own wildlife. A warning sign near the zoo warned of coytoe’swithin the park including suggestions of what to do if you see one. These included yelling aggressively at it, throwing things at it, and not feeding them!. Fortunately I didn’t come across one, but I guess the advice was handy, although I’m dissapointed that my natural reaction (to run like hell) wasn’t an option

Back on the sea wall trail I came across the first beach, which was not what I was expecting to find in Vancouver (or Canada at all). Even though it was a pretty cold May day (by my standards) there were people sitting on the beach with a book, or just relaxing around. I must admit the views were great, and the beach looked nice but it was way too cold for me. Perhaps next time I visit during a summer I’ll give the beach a go. Also washed up on the rocks was bunch of felled trees that must have washed down the river and ended up on the beach. During our flight into Vancouver the day before we could see heaps of timber floating down the river to waiting sawmills (very old fashioned method, but obviously works and saves money on transport). I’m guessing this bunch got missed and ended up at sea.

The bike hire guy suggested I keep following the trail around the English Bay, and then come back to Stanley park as it was worth a look. He was spot on. The bay is at the other end of Denham street and has another beach and an Inukshuk. The Inukshuk was used as a part of the symbol for the winter olympics but the real thing stands on a small point into English Bay. The plauque beside it informed me that it’s original use was by the aboriginals as a navigation aid and as a sign of a hospitable welcome. To my surprise it is now semi sponsored by a hotel chain – seems commercialism is alive and well in Canada too, although I must say that everyone in Canada has been extremely welcoming and hospitable, so I guess these traditions date back to the traditional Canadians.

Following the good looking bike shop guy’s advice I continued along the water as far as the Burrard Street bridge before heading back to Stanley park and taking the interior route back to the beginning of the circuit. Within the interior of the park there are tennis courts a bowling club and heaps of open park space which changes from the densely wooded rain forrests to fields scattered with small flowers and even a lagoon. As you get closer to the city you can see apartment buildings that must have an amazing view overlook the park. I can only imagine the price tag on those as the views they must wake up to are stunning.

Reluctantly I dropped off my bike half an hour before it was due back and decided to check out the rest of the city by foot, which is an article in itself. As for Stanley Park, I spent about 5.5 hours riding around the sea wall with the occasional detour into the interior. You could easily spend an entire day or more exploring what this inner urban park has to offer. If the idea of cycling isnt for you, there are horse drawn carts that take tourists around the park and heaps of walking / hiking trails that seem to cater for almost any fitness level. I’d have to put this park up there as a must do attraction if visiting Vancouver, and the park itself including its amazing views is free.

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