Tulips at Harrison Lake
Harrison Lake

[Too busy to write just now…]

Real and Unreal Estate
Harrison Hot Springs is the Sand Sculpture Capital of the World

Harrison Hot Springs is very popular with beachgoers who like to get away from the city



Kelowna winery tour

Quails' Gate Wine Grapes
Sample some wine grapes at Quails’ Gate (in season only, I assume)

The last weekend of September was a great time to be in Kelowna!  Initially, we had planned to do some hiking or some other activities also, but we quickly gave in to the temptation of discovering and tasting as many wines from the local wineries as we could.

Our first stop was the most visually stunning, by far:

Mission Hill
The moment you drive into the premises of the Mission Hill estate, a sense of “wow” grabs you.  The architecture is spectacular!  A real tour de force…

Mission Hill Bells
Splendid architecture and design await Mission Hill visitors

Mission Hill Loggia
The loggia — or “outdoor room” — providing some peace and quiet

Mission Hill Winery View
View on the outdoor dining terrace and Okanagan Lake

Among the different kinds of tours available to guests, We decided to try the “Discovery” tour, at 18$ per adult.  It included a 10 minute video detailing the origins of the Mission Hill Winery Estate and a short bio of the proprietor, Anthony von Mandl, and the estate’s chief winemaker, John Simes; a visit of the vineyards and their underground, Bordeaux-style barrel cellar; 4 wine tastings with cheese.  We enjoyed our tour very much.  Not being big wine connoisseurs ourselves, we’re however able to taste wine like seasoned pros — sort of — after learning the proper way. :)

Mission Hill Cellar
Cool underground cellar

Mission Hill Bottles
A few of the many award-winning bottles of wine from the winery

Having each a sweet tooth, we ended up buying a bottle of their Vidal Reserve ice wine (part of the wine tasting portion of the tour).  We just fell in love with the rich mango taste and caramel flavor of the wine.

Quails’ Gate
Nobody can compete with the grandeur of Mission Hill, but nevertheless, there are still other wineries worth visiting around — right next door actually.  Just a few blocks from our first stop is Quails’ Gate.  We went for the general 5$ tour there and found that it was more interesting overall.  From a brief history of the origins of the winery, we went through all the steps of wine making in great detail, the tour lasting around an hour.  I won’t spoil the show for you, but our guide Isaac had quite a few funny tidbits to tell us about the art of making wine.

Quails' Gate Entrance

Quails' Gate Backyard #2
The view from Quails’ Gate’s backyard porch

The ambiance of this tour was more casual.  People were allowed to sample some grapes and we had a little bit more time to take pictures in between stations also.  And the view on Lake Okanagan was terrific, the winery being closer to its shores. We didn’t try their restaurant, but apparently, they have excellent — but expensive — food there.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery
Our other stops were somewhat quick, as we had too many wineries to try and we had to cut some corners here and there during our short weekend stay.  On this list was, to my surprise, Canada’s most visited winery and largest certified organic vineyard: Summerhill Pyramid Winery.  I’m surprised because with Mission Hill’s massive presence, one would think this would be the easy winner; but I guess size doesn’t matter after all. :p  For the short time we were there, it was obvious that this estate was built with “spirituality” in mind (click above link to find out more about the pyramid, etc.).

Summerhill Garden
Colorful garden at Summerhill Pyramid Winery

Little Straw Vineyards
A short stay there.  Just long enough to try their “Tapestry” white wine which our B&B hosts had recommended to us.  We liked it and bought it. :)

Little Straw Winery View
Breathtaking view from Little Straw Vineyards

We like the B&B format and so we decided to try the Alexandria House Bed & Breakfast, close to our main attractions.  We found our “Lilac Room” to be picture perfect; some treats were waiting for us, as we checked in.  Having a private entrance to our room was a nice bonus.  Unfortunately, we missed the mention about the hot tub when we booked our room and didn’t bring our bathing suits along.  When we came back from our dinner, a couple of glasses of home-made red wine were waiting for us.  Breakfast was delicious and filling.  When we mentioned our love for ice wines, we got treated to a couple more samples of home-made dessert wines (port and ice wine if I remember correctly).  It was a very enjoyable stay and our hosts, Paul and Suzanne, made us feel very welcome.

Dining in the Kelowna region was very good.  Our bills hovered around 70$ each time (with an appy or dessert, but no wine — we had our share already during the day), but if the food is great, I say it’s worth it. ;)

On Saturday night, we went on the East side of the Okanagan to the Wild Apple Grill, at the Manteo Resort, for some excellent pork chops and jumbo prawns.  Service was excellent too.  The only drawback was that we booked our table for 8PM, wishing for a window seat — and we got it.  But, the population being much more sparse around Okanagan Lake in general, night-time becomes synonymous with “total darkness” here.  We could have sat next to a black wall and it would have made no difference. :s  Remember to book your table for before sunset, if you wish to enjoy any kind of view. ;)

On Sunday night, following our gracious B&B hosts’ suggestion, we went for the Gasthaus on the Lake (I hope the “official” link works for you; it wasn’t for me, as of this writing) in Peachland, about 15 minutes South of Westbank, where our B&B and most of the wineries on our tour were.  We were very surprised by just how beautiful the area was, Peachland not being part of our plans initially.  The promenade caressing the shores of the lake reminded me very much of White Rock, closer to home.  As for the food, we found the Gasthaus Pan (a mix of different varieties of pork meats) and the salmon fillet were great and the portions generous.

Peachland Sunset Panoramic
A surprisingly beautiful finish to our weekend, in Peachland

Two days is too short of a stay to enjoy this area fully.  3-4 days would have been just right, I think.  Come and visit that beautiful region, especially since the wine festival has just begun.


P.S.: Oh, and no, we didn’t spot Ogopogo… Maybe next time. ;)

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Road trip to Harrison Lake

Harrison Lake #3
Harrison Lake

After a group outing to the Agassiz Tulip Festival was over all too quickly and wondering what to do next on this beautiful sunny day, the guy I carpooled with suggested we go on a road trip.  Although we had no specific destination in mind, our driver suggested we try driving along Harrison Lake on a service road he knew existed but had never tried.  This was my first road trip experience and man, I had a blast!

Leaving Agassiz behind, we entered the city of Harrison close by.  We skipped the famous “Hot Springs” altogether as our goal was to explore the unknown.  Back country map in hand, our driver led us to the East side of the lake, on a rather well maintained road.  Although a truck is more fit to handle that kind of terrain, sedan type cars such as the ones we saw along the way could still navigate through the light bumps, albeit at a slower pace.

A couple of kilometers into the service road

Waterfall flowing beside a tiny bridge crossing

Harrison Lake #1
After some elevation gain, we came across this nice viewpoint (notice the cross at the bottom of the tree)

Bear Creek Shore #1
14 kilometers or so later, at the Bear Creek Recreational Area

Bear Creek Shore #2
At the Bear Creek Recreational Area

Rural Mailbox
Our Harrison Lake road trip over, we still stopped here and there for some great rural views on the way back

Rural Landscape #2
Heading West along Hwy 7, another spot worth a picture.

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Tough hike!  The whole thing lasted 10 hours for our group.  The worse part was walking for about an hour or more from the end of the trail (past the Northern tip of Buntzen Lake), all tired and everything, back to the parking lot (at the Southern tip of the lake).  Some people got swarmed by wasps on the way down on a tight and steep path on the Swan Falls trail too.  The unlucky hikers wanted to run for cover, but there were too many of us on the narrow path to make a safe escape!  Thank God for us the wasps didn’t continue attacking us, even though our party was jammed a few meters from their nest…

Beach Along Indian Arm
Some beach along Indian Arm, I think

Bedwell Bay, Deep Cove, and Vancouver
Bedwell Bay (front left), Deep Cove (right), and downtown Vancouver in the distance

Looking East From Eagle Peak's Summit
Coquitlam Lake

Looking North From Eagle Peak's Summit
Mount Garibaldi

The Swan Falls
Swan Falls

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Spectacular Garibaldi Lake

Oh my God! And I thought Deeks Lake was Heaven… This must be 7th Heaven then! :D

Snowy Mountains
Wow! What a beautiful lake (Sphynx Glacier is in the background)!

I have hiked Garibaldi Lake twice in 2007 and it is hands down my favorite hiking destination so far.  And I say “so far” because BC has taught me in the past year that you shouldn’t put a limit on just how beautiful a place can be.  I have had 3-4 different favorites throughout my 25 hikes or so in 2007 and I know that there’s so much more to see, still.

An 18km, 6-8 hour hike — depending on your pace and how long you stand in awe at the beauty of the lake — might seem daunting for some, but let me reassure you that the 9km uphill hike is very gradual, being spread out over 810m of elevation (roughly under 100m of elevation gain for each kilometer; not that bad, eh?).  I personally feel like this is an “easy, but long” hike, but I do live an active lifestyle.  If you caught yourself saying “I’m out of shape” recently, it may be wise to refrain from doing this one as a first hike. EDIT: warning #2: if the idea of going up up up, no matter how gradual the ascent is scares you, don’t do it. I have a couple of friends who disliked the hike because of that and one in particular compared it to “torture”. lol  I disagree with that statement, but hey, no two person is alike… 

The trail is basically made up of switchbacks and has a soft feel to it, almost like walking on a carpet.  Hiking purists might squeal at the monotony of the trail, but I didn’t think it was all that bad myself.  At least it’s not some old gravel/logging road, like some other hiking trails tend to have, in some parts…  There are a few streams here and there on this one and I find the douglas firs lining up the trail to be quite beautiful too.  And 2/3 of the way up, things start to get really interesting!

Trail Leading to Stream
Typical trail “incline” on the way to Garibaldi Lake

A little over 6km into the uphill hike is a fork in the trail that let’s you choose whether to continue towards Garibaldi Lake via “Taylor Meadows” or “The Barrier.”  Taylor Meadows is a delicate area teeming with wildflowers — “in season” though (around early August I’d say, since I went there early July and late August and both times it didn’t look like it was in full bloom) –, while the Barrier is an impressive volcanic area.  This latter trail also has a couple more smaller lakes (the Lesser Garibaldi Lake and the Barrier Lake) along the way that are no match, though, for THE lake.  Whichever path you choose on your way up, you can still come back down through the other one, as both are part of the same loop.  I chose to go up towards Taylor Meadows both times myself (note: if anyone who has already done it has an opinion on which side to choose first, please leave a comment and tell us why going through the Barrier or Taylor Meadows first is better (sunlight, “traffic”, etc.); thanks!).

Garibaldi Lake, Entering Taylor Meadows Section
Taylor Meadows
Very Much
The Barrier

Aside from the majestic lake — which is pretty close by now –, another great thing about Garibaldi Provincial Park is the fact that there are still so many options to choose from once you make it to the top — or this top I should say…  There is still some elevation gain to be made if you feel so inclined to do so.  Fit hikers might actually come to the park for a 29km day hike to the Black Tusk or a 30km one to Panorama Ridge.  But for the more casual hikers out there, if you’re into camping, both Taylor Meadows and Garibaldi Lake have a number of sites where you can set up camp.  The two extended hikes just mentioned could be part of the second leg of your journey there.  But wait!  There’s still more! (hehe, sounds like some infomercial).  On my second time there, I extended my Taylor Meadows hike up to the Black Tusk Junction (minimal elevation gain; about 2.5km extra to the junction, about 5km extra for total hike) where you can get a nice, close view of the Black Tusk mountain/hillside while passing by yet more wildflowers on your path.

Taylor Meadows
View on the Black Tusk, from Taylor Meadows
Garibaldi Lake, Black Tusk Junction
At the Black Tusk Junction, on a cloudy day :(
The Black Tusk, Up Close
The Black Tusk (can you make out the face? ;) )

But the main course is Garibaldi Lake, so why don’t we move on towards this most amazing of lakes now…  Shall we?

Garibaldi Lake, First Peek
A first peek at Garibaldi Lake, coming from the Black Tusk Junction

Snowy Trail
Entering Garibaldi Lake

Bambi's Back!
Bambi casually passing by :)

Garibaldi Lake, Blue Waters
Garibaldi Lake’s peaceful, turquoise waters

An underwater resident :)

Creek flowing down from Garibaldi Lake

Picturesque Garibaldi Lake
This tiny island rocks!

Volcanic Inukshuks

Again, this is an amazing place…  I’m not a geologist; I don’t know exactly what gives the lake its wonderful turquoise color (the glacier?), but it sure is pretty!  A friend I was hiking with who also went to famous Lake Louise said that Garibaldi Lake is more interesting — no kidding!  Make sure you bring enough warm clothes so you can enjoy a nice, long, relaxing break on the shores of the lake — it can get a little chilly up there!

All good things come to an end and we must head our way back down now…  Well, we can expect a little more excitement down the road at the Barrier.  This spot is quite unique with its rock face that comes alive every so often with falling rocks and smoke coming out of some openings.  Apparently, the Barrier has been the setting of “several catastrophic rock avalanches” in the past.  There was some activity on my first visit, early July, but everything was quiet on my second outing there, late August.  And apart from the other-worldly nature of the site, it also gives us an excellent vantage point on the landscape at large from there.

Lesser Mighty
Mighty stream, early July,  flowing into the Lesser Garibaldi Lake

Molten Rocks
Molten volcanic rock formation

Smoking Chimney
Falling rocks and smoke coming out of a hole in the Barrier :o

Garibaldi Lake, The Barrier
Enjoying the view

(Tough) Like a Rock
Tough little wildflowers at the Barrier

What a long, but extremely rewarding day this has been!  I can’t wait to go back!  It’s good advice to arrive there early though — especially on weekends — as this is a very popular spot and the parking space tends to fill up quickly I’ve been told.  3$ for the day or 5$ for an overnighter is what it will cost you to park at Heaven’s doorstep.  See directions to get there by clicking the “Directions” tab at the top of this page and enjoy! ;)

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