Tag Archives: whale watching

Vancouver (Part One)

Well getting here from Germany was no mean feat. We hopped a train from Hamburg to Dusseldorf where we switched to head to Amsterdam and switched again to head to Schiphol (the main airport). We then crashed briefly before getting up to board a flight to Montreal, a 5 hr layover and another flight to Vancouver. A cab ride later and at 2am we were here.

We set up camp in our accommodation in the West End in a place called English Bay. After crashing out (a couple of times) we were finally awake enough to go exploring. This place was fantastic, once again in the heart of the entertainment area with tons to see and do within a very short walk.

The first thing that we did was reach out to my mate Jeremy’s friend (Paul) who lived here and ran the local marina. We had been chatting in the leadup and he mentioned that there were options for whale watching (humpbacks and orcas). And that was quite frankly too good an option to pass up.

So after a little wander around, we met with Paul who offered us a ride in his own boat (in the coming days) and advised that he was able to offer a (50%) mates rates deal on the whale watching trip. All too good to be true from our perspective. After this he also added a drive around on the next night to get some perspective to the Vancouver area.

So the next morning Jill and I were up and doing our meander and we figured that hugging the water was pretty good way to start. Turning right from our hotel we walked to the end until we found ourselves in Waterfront Park near the launching point for harbour cruises. We turned right again and followed the water passing all of the 5 star hotel usual suspects, sculptures, trendy restaurants and bars that you would expect along a big city harbour.

We walked along the seawall taking in the amazing views and admiring the parks that bordered the waterfront. More cafes and restaurants until we found ourselves at Canada Place cruise ship terminal and the Vancouver Convention Centre. Possibly the coolest part of the journey was watching the seaplanes takeoff and land in the middle of the city. Maybe not so cool was the smell of AVGas.

The next morning we got up and decided to walk on the opposite side of the water, so got out of our accommodation and turned left.

Within 20 meters we found ourselves at the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculpture. A series of 14 patinated cast-bronze figures, each 2.5m tall.

Inukshuk (a human-like figure made of piled stones or boulders). Inuit have been creating these stone markers all over the Arctic landscape.

Inukshuks are meant to serve several functions, including guiding travellers, warning of danger, assisting hunters and marking places of reverence.

So after our day of wandering about we were collected at around 5:30pm by Paul and his partner Francesca who gave us the guided road tour of Vancouver. This started with a drive across the Lions Gate suspension bridge, to the north shore and up the hill to the Cypress Lookout for some amazing views over the entire city.

A bit further up the hill and we found ourselves at the Cypress Mountain ski resort. There is no actual peak by this name but it refers to a trio of skiable mountains (Black Mountain, Mt. Strachan, and Hollyburn Mountain) that all hosted events at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Being summer there was no snow but we got to see the Olympic rings, a downhill luge and yet another Inuksuk. A look at the map reveals some seriously challenging skiing (well beyond my pitiful level) including double black diamond runs.

From here we headed west to the seaside village of Horseshoe Bay which is the departure point for ferries to Vancouver Island. It is also the starting point for the Sea to Sky Highway, which connects Vancouver to the Whistler ski fields (120 km).  It is a really pretty little township (about 1000 people) where we stopped and had all you can eat fish and chips (with unlimited soda refills) for $20. Paul used to work in this area and he recommended it highly. And he was right, the food was amazingly fresh, had only a light batter and was delicious.

Having come back after dinner we did the CBD drive around taking in the key areas of Downtown, Yaletown, Gastown the Waterfront. From here we did the confronting drive along Hasting Street East. This is a major road that, for about 5 blocks, has been taken over by homeless people. It is in essence a shanty town slum full of markets selling or trading the good that had been stolen that day.

The area is the hub of Vancouver’s homeless and itinerant issue. The Eastside neighbourhood is described as being “the site of a complex set of social issues including disproportionately high levels of drug use, homelessness, poverty, crime, mental illness and sex work”. In the five-block drive, we saw almost every one of the “social issues” described in the list above.

The next day we met up with Francesca and headed towards Paul’s work on Granville Island for the promised boat ride. On the way we stopped and picked up cheese, crackers, charcuterie, olives etc. Granville Island is a 37-acre area in the middle of Vancouver, BC and is easily accessible by car, boat, or bus. The island has just about anything you can imagine and includes: the Kids Market (housed in a century-old paint factory and train caboose) a giant indoor Adventure Zone, Canada’s largest free waterpark. Added to this is the Public Market, tons of shops, a couple of breweries and more pubs.

Having checked out the docks area, Paul finished work and the four of us hopped on for our tour of Vancouver from the water. It was magnificent. We spent the better part of three hours just putting along in the boat, taking in the scenery.

Whale watching (attempt one)

Well, we jumped onto the boat that Paul had arranged for us (at the mate’s rates discount) with the hope of seeing some Orcas. I had spoken to the guys from the company (Prince of Whales) who said that 94% of the time they get to see the Orcas. So off we went on our 5-hour adventure to see the Orca. The first hour was uneventful, so much so that a big fuss was made over an eagle sitting on a pole. In a desperate attempt to show us something they took us over to see a bunch of rock sausages sunning themselves.

But then it happened, at about the 2 hr mark a spout was seen and off we went. We found ourselves in the presence of a juvenile Humpback whale who decided that we were fun. So for the next hour or so this whale hung out by the boat, popping in and out (between dives), blowing whale snot all over us poor boat goers. It wasn’t quite the breeding season romping that we see off the Queensland coast, but it was still bloody impressive and worth every penny. Part of the price included a professional photographer who sent out the photos that he had taken, just in case your ones were rubbish. As it happened, our ones were pretty good, I took my GoPro and Jill with her phone.

It was incredibly good, but still no Orcas.

Mirissa and farewell to Sri Lanka

The thing I didn’t mention about Galle was the sea turtles…from atop the walls of the fort…at around sunset…the sea turtles come in to shore and feed in the shallow waters. We spent about 30 mins watching the turtles in the shallow waters near the fort wall. The next morning we hopped a tuk tuk and did the 30-40 kilometre schlepp to Mirissa our next port of call. Our ride was 30-40 Kms, plus driver, plus stops all for 2000 rupees…less than $20.

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Along the way we stopped at the touristy bits…the first of these was the sea turtle hatchery which is a small place that rescues and saves both the eggs and the munty turtles. So there were a bunch of rescued munty turtles along with the eggs at had been liberated from the beaches (away from the poachers). We stopped at an inland lake, and a bit further on to get a photo of the traditional pole fishermen. It was staged for the tourists but hey…this was how it was once done. Needless to say that the seafood here is good, fresh, plentiful and cheap.

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Our time in Mirissa was merely to be a beach holiday on the southern part of the Sri Lankan island…almost. The other gem that I have been holding back for the uninformed (like I was)…is that Sri Lanka has a whale migration similar to that which happens along the east coast of Australia. In Australia we get the humpback whales…in Sri Lanka they get the sperm whales and the blue whales. Now the blue whale is the largest animal known to ever inhabit our planet..including the dinosaurs.

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An average blue whale is (thanks wiki) about 30 metres long and weighs about 170 tonnes, which is around twice the length and 4 times the weight of the humpbacks we see back home on the east coast. Alas the blue whales do not put on the same sort of show as the humpbacks (jumping, leaping and fin swatting) but rather just cruise on past with the odd blowhole burst. The experience was not what I had initially hoped for but we did get to see a whale along with some dolphins and flying fish…which was a first for me. I was hoping for some awe inspiring photographs of the whales but the roughness of the seas and the brief glimpses of the whales meant that our cameras and ourselves were not up to the task.


The majority of time in Mirissa was spent lazing by the swimming pool trying to even out the tan lines on our feet from wearing sandal style footwear for so long. Jill’s feet had some strange tiger pattern going on while mine were blocked. The other thing was to use the salt water and sand as a natural loofa as we had both been in need of some general pedicure style maintenance.

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Mirissa was the last of Sri Lanka as we headed back to Colombo before flying out to start the Vietnamese leg of our journey. We would have a day and a bit and a catch up with Ruwan in Colombo but generally that was it. Jill did some prep work for her next assignment. Leaving Sri Lanka allowed us to witness possibly the greatest act of stupidity that we have seen since departing Australia, over 10 months ago. A small child (3-4 years old) was running around the departure lounge of the Colombo airport squealing furiously…ok…annoying but the kid is too young to really stop it…and the parents were trying to calm it down and shut it up…to no avail.

Enter stupidity…Dad was about to have a drink and the child threw a minor tantrum at wanting some…rather than say no they caved and I looked up to see a 3 year old swigging from a red bull can…fast forward 10 minutes… Any idea what red bull inside a brat 3 year old does. The entire airport lounge (and later the plane) was taken over by the shrieks, cries, tantrums and general bratdom of a kid who had been fed red bull and was buzzing off the walls on caffeine.

Thank god that Air Asia X offers a quiet zone for just a few dollars extra…this is just behind business class but is curtained off and children etc are not allowed. And my darling bride has booked us these seats for almost every leg to follow. This transit saw us leaving Colombo at 4pm and arriving in Kuala Lumpur at around 10 pm local time (but only 7 pm Colombo time) where we would crash in the airport hotel before catching an 11:15am flight to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

This meant we were trying to go to sleep at 8pm to try to catch 6 hrs sleep before being inside the airport once again. Anyway we woke tired and commuted through to Ho Chi Minh arriving there at around noon local time (with another time adjustment).



I had never previously considered Sri Lanka as a holiday destination but having been here…I will come back and would highly recommend it for anyone reading. This place is fantastic. The people are lovely, the food is great, you don’t have to fight all day haggling with tuk tuk drivers (or anyone else for that matter) trying to rip you off. The beaches are clean and the water is swimmable, the seafood is freshly magnificent and everything (that the government doesn’t control) is cheap. Our 4 days on the beach cost us about $35 a night for nice accommodation with breakfast included. The food and drink bill ran to about $65 for the whole time…this included 2 meals a day (breakfasts were included in accommodation), all drinks. And when you factor in that our meals were generally fresh fish and prawns, this is seriously good value.

The ability to see elephants and leopards in the wild, the conservation efforts and the rebuilding after years of warfare is truly encouraging. The natural scenery is stunning, and the attitude and friendliness of all you meet will amaze you. The only detractor is the facilities run by the government which seem hellbent on bilking the tourist out of every cent that they can.

Sri Lanka is definitely the jewel of South Asia and should be placed high on any list of places to be experienced. The war is over and the infrastructure is improving and this place will only get better. I hope that they keep their current trajectory of encouraging tourism without cheapening the experience. I would hate to see this turned into a tourist hell hole, because quite frankly the place is stunning as it is. While we did not make it there…the locals tell us that the beaches on the eastern side of the island are even more pristine and less crowded.

If that is the case…bring it on.

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