We get a lie-in today so it is a bit of a shame that I wake up at 4am and can’t get back to sleep again. I make use of the hotel swimming pool, which bizarrely necessitates walking through the breakfasting guests in order to gain access. We are driven down to Kelowna waterfront, on the shores of Lake Okanagan, which is beautiful. Kelowna, meaning grizzly bear, is the largest town in the Okanagan region and has the drawback of having a very high fire risk, with frequent evacuations being needed. We view the town and lake from the vantage point of Knox Mountain. Once again our coach boldly goes forth in uncharted areas. We are informed that we are safe to drive up a narrowing roadway as school buses have been observed taking this path up the mountain. No one has reported any coming back down again, which is more worrying. Signs say that active bears have been sighted in this area. At this point I would settle for inactive bears. We see no bears.
Lake Okanagan is reputedly home to the Ogopogo, or as the First Nations call it Nhaatik. This is similar to the Loch Ness monster and some believe that channels link the two lakes. We see no Ogopogo, so are unable to claim the $2 million reward for its discovery. It is another beautiful day and the thermometer on a waterfront building is reading 24 degrees. That may be an exaggeration but it is certainly warm and the TV news later tells us that it was the warmest Canadian September for over a century. It is a beautiful area and timber is being soaked in the harbour to stop it splitting, We also see seaplanes. A wit on a bike thinks Chris is Santa Claus and assures him that he has been good this year. I suppose this might have been vaguely amusing if the bike rider had been five rather than fifty.
We visit Summerhill Pyramid winery for a tour. The vineyard is totally organic; corks barrels and cleaning methods all have to be chemical free, so all cleaning is by steam only. The non-wine this time is a rather sweet, cloying grape juice. All wine spends at least a month being stored in the pyramid. This is a one eighth replica of the pyramid at Giza and allegedly has beneficial effects on the wine because it is a sacred geometrical chamber and harnesses special energy. Chris agreed that it felt cold and I was finding it hard to breathe inside but I think the spiritual energy largely passed us by. Nonetheless the setting of the vineyard is spectacular. We eat in the pub attached to the hotel. Like other similar venues, this involves watching sport, or indeed a choice of various sports, on the numerous large screens in the bar.
The following day, we cross the Okanagan Bridge, which was formerly a floating bridge. Today the temperature is 5 degrees, so a bit of a change from yesterday but it is still sunny. We see evidence of previous forest fires and here evacuation is mandatory in times of danger. As we travel west across a mountain highway there are warnings about the necessity for snow chains and winter tyres as we pass ‘chain up’ areas.
In these logging regions two trees have to be planted for every one that is harvested. An experienced planter can plant 2000 trees a day, for which they earn 50 cents per tree. There are problems with the mountain pine beetle damaging trees. The warmer climate means that the beetle is no longer being killed off during winter. The trees that are attacked have a bluish tinge to their wood. This is still being harvested as ‘denim pine’ and its popularity makes it expensive. There are also a quarter of a million head of cattle in this area. We do see cattle. Most round-ups are now done by helicopter rather than cowboys.
Our first stop is in Merritt, in Nicola Valley. This is famous for its saw mills, rodeo and country and western ‘walk of stars’. Today’s ailment is an infected eye, product no doubt of air-conditioning overkill but drops are available at a local shop. From here it is on to Hope, where several roads are named for Shakespearean characters. Hope is the chain-saw capital of the world. An annual chain-saw carving competition is held and there are many carvings in the streets. The town was also the setting for a Rambo film, which was on TV last night. We follow Highway 1 from Hope, alongside the Fraser River, named for fur trader Simon Fraser. This is salmon fishing territory. Salmon lay 4000 eggs at a time, of which only two are likely to make it back to the spawning site.
Only 4% of British Columbia is suitable for agriculture and most of the land is in the Fraser Valley. Nonetheless BC can feed 65% of its population. We see the enormous Thornton Railyard, the third largest in North America, which handles 4000 items of freight per day. We take the ferry across the Straits of Georgia to Vancouver Island, consuming burgers and very nice real chips (none of this French fries rubbish) on board. Strangely these ferries open their doors before docking – scary. Vancouver Island is the size of England, much of it is inaccessible by road and the population is only 750,000, half of whom live in the city of Victoria, the capital of BC and our destination. We are on the Saanich Peninsula, where Fort Victoria was built in 1843. The Hudson Bay Company erected this fort to stop incursions from US traders. Early settlers were the English middle classes, who brought English customs, such as gardens and tea drinking. There is gig-racing taking place on the Elk and Beaver Lakes, reminding us of home.
Mining, logging, shipbuilding, whaling were the original industries but the area was disadvantaged because the Canadian Pacific Railway stopped short of Vancouver Island, now most employment is in the administration and tourism sectors. The climate makes it popular place to live and Victoria is home to many rich retirees, with consequent impact on property prices. Going northwards on Vancouver Island is referred to as going ‘up island’ but we are staying in the south. Victoria’s Chinatown was the first in Canada. We see many totem poles in Thunderbird Park. Here we are in the ‘Pacific Rim of Fire’ earthquake zone and we are urged not to exceed the maximum numbers in the lifts. It is unclear how this might cause an earthquake.