The best way to explore Canada’s verdant west coast city is to abandon the tourist trail and join the locals, discovers Pamela Wade.
A 14-hour flight is a long way to go for a doughnut – but when it’s the world’s best doughnut? When just the memory of that one warm, fluffy, crispy, honey-glazed marvel is enough to make your mouth water months later and you know they also come with maple or chocolate icing that you didn’t get to try?
There are many excellent reasons to visit Vancouver, but the irresistibly named Honey Doughnuts & Goodies cafe at Deep Cove in the north of the city is now top of the list for me. And it’s wholly thanks to Vancouverite Lois that I went there: Lois, and Tours by Locals. This is an international organisation that brings together tourists who want something more personal than an open-top bus ride around a city with locals who are keen to share their knowledge of their hometown.
That’s how, on a silvery June morning (brochure speak for low cloud and imminent rain – always a possibility in the lush Pacific North West), I came to be driving with Lois across the Lions Gate Bridge towards the hills that form the backdrop to the city’s busy harbour. The weather had forced Plan B, so instead of tramping to a distant peak, we were going deep into one of Vancouver’s neat and affluent suburbs to walk in the shelter of the forest to a lower lookout point. Lois was apologetic: “I’m sorry we can’t hike up to Cypress Mountain – but you’ll enjoy Quarry Rock and afterwards we can go to Honey’s.”
I assured her I was fine with missing out on climbing a mountain in favour of a wander through the woods and what promised to be a rather special morning tea – I’m obliging like that – and so we parked in the village and set off in the company of joggers and dog walkers, following a path through the mixed coniferous forest that carpets most of British Columbia. In the dim light, the tips of the mountain hemlock trees were luminous green. “Good for preventing scurvy,” said Lois, who was full of interesting information. “Try some.” The pinky-orange berries glistened and looked just like salmon roe. They tasted of raspberry and are apparently loved by bears, something I was happy not to see proved. For an hour we climbed steadily, at Lois’ measured pace, up through the trees before emerging onto a huge, smooth granite boulder: Quarry Rock.
Below us the waters of Indian Arm looked like beaten pewter, textured by the wakes of yachts and paddleboards. All around the glacial fjord were deep green headlands, and across the bay sat Deep Cove’s multimillion dollar houses clustered around its little marina. Other hikers picnicked, a dog wallowed in a rain puddle, and I felt like one of the locals, happy to be there.
Not as happy as I was to get to Honey’s afterwards, though, to fall upon that perfect doughnut with good appetite and a clear conscience, sitting at a pavement table as more locals went about their business, and pleasure, in this lovely suburb.
Getting off the tourist track and connecting with the city’s secret side made it a good idea to spend the afternoon with another local, pedalling around central Vancouver on a Cycle City Tour. Following Dan’s lead also meant there was less chance of making a wrong turn and disappearing under the wheels of a bus, which helped my appreciation of the wonderful variety of artworks tucked into the streetscape.
Everyone who’s ever cycled in Vancouver has experienced the buzz of skimming along the Sea Wall, the wide traffic-free path that follows the harbour edge past ferries and marinas on one side and parks and gardens on the other. But how many do more than glance at the art? Like LightShed, a half-size boathouse on stilts that looks as though it’s made of weathered wood, but is actually cast in aluminium and perfect in every detail, right down to the barnacles on its pilings. Or the stone Inuksuk, an Inuit sign of welcome and symbol of the Winter Olympics. Or the lovely curve of rusted metal arches at English Bay.
Everyone who’s ever cycled in Vancouver has experienced the buzz of skimming along the Sea Wall.
These big pieces are unmissable, but there are others we visited that even the locals sitting on top of them don’t know about. Working Landscape is a set of circular platforms fitted with benches and potted trees, revolving so slowly that people seated there reading the paper finish up slightly discombobulated but none the wiser. There’s a pergola that plays music if you know where to stand, a set of etched photos drawn by the sun, a brush that paints the state of the tide and wind – even the manhole covers are art, cast in a lovely native tadpole pattern.
The two-hour cycle tour only scratched the surface of Vancouver’s many treasures, but it was an ideal introduction and with more time I would have continued poking through the CBD to discover many more quirky delights. I would have explored the art and foodie charms of Granville Island, sampled the upper-end offerings of the food trucks and craft breweries, looked into the city’s dark history at the Police Museum, and buzzed around the waterways on a cute little ferry.
What I did do, though, was to walk along the Sea Wall in the golden evening, past Lost Lagoon and into the glory that is Stanley Park. I wasn’t alone, and that was the joy of it: sharing the path with me were other walkers, joggers, skateboarders, rollerbladers and cyclists – all friendly, all locals, all as delighted as me to be out enjoying the trees and the harbour, the birds and the beaches. Beyond, skyscrapers loomed above the moored boats, all of them reflected in the still waters of Coal Harbour. Two splendid draught horses clopped past on the last carriage ride of the day. It was a perfect moment – almost. All that was missing was a maple-iced doughnut from Honey’s.
Air New Zealand operates daily direct flights to Vancouver:
What to do:
Tours by Locals offers all sorts of tours in all sorts of places or join Cycle City Tours if you enjoy sightseeing on two wheels:
Visit Tourism Vancouver or let World Journeys do the organising: