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Cool travels Grouse Mountain and Vancouver Island

Cool travels Grouse Mountain and Vancouver Island

Hello again! I’m back following a forced hiatus − that is, my computer decided to have an extended nap for a week. $$$ and a new screen later, I’m back!

It’s even cooler here in beautiful British Columbia, and the snow is falling. Ski resorts are now welcoming winter sports enthusiasts and I’m there ready to… well, drink hot chocolate and watch in awe.

British Columbia Grouse Mountain Vancouver

Cool travels – Grouse Mountain and Vancouver Island

We paid a visit to gorgeous Grouse Mountain last week. Grouse is cool because it’s only about half an hour’s easy commute from Vancouver city. We’ve been patiently watching from the city down below each day, waiting for powder to appear on Grouse’s peaks, and as soon as it did (on a sunny day, no less) we ventured up top for a play in the snow.

Grouse is special to me because it’s really the very first place I ever saw decent, fluttering, deep white winter wonderland-type snow, back in 1999 when my brother and I first visited.

British Columbia Victoria

Grouse is fabulous and this time around we trekked into the mountain a little further to see if we could meet the bears they have at a refuge nearby. Unfortunately the lazy little fellas (like the wolves in the sanctuary at the bottom of the mountain) were sleeping, so we were left to guess what they look like. Anyone however, can check out what they are up to day or night by logging onto the Grouse Wildlife Refuge bear-cam.

Little did we know that one day soon, we’d come face to face with a bear in the middle of the night in Whistler village!

Ice-skating, skiing, snowboarding, walks, hot drinks and fabulous Vancouver city views − it’s all at Grouse. There was even an Aussie Blue Cattle Dog playing up the top of the mountain with his owner − a highlight of our day, because this young dog looked just like our very own Harry who we miss back in Aus.

British Columbia Grouse Mountain Vancouver

This is my third visit to B.C. but there’s just so much to see in this beautiful part of the world that I never seem to make it far out of Vancouver city itself. We had an aim this time around to at least get to Victoria on Vancouver Island (about four hours from Vancouver by coach, ferry then coach − check for deals on Pacific Coaches).

We’ll have to get back over to Vancouver Island one day because we realise we’ve missed so much − it’s one of the largest islands off the west coast of North America, and there are numerous areas of the region (such as Ladysmith and Tofino) we didn’t get to visit: untamed, wild beautiful landscapes. Typical ‘super natural’ BC (as they tout in the tourism advertisements).

Victoria however (capital of British Columbia), is a picturesque, clean city brimming with cool old buildings, contemporary shopping and night-life.

British Columbia Grouse Mountain Vancouver

My friend, Lauren, once sent me a snow globe featuring Victoria’s romantic city skyline and I’ve wanted to visit for myself ever since receiving this treasured gift. Victoria is Western Canada’s oldest city, originally settled in 1843 and is named after Queen Victoria.

British Columbia Grouse Mountain Vancouver

Mostly it is easy to navigate by foot if you’re staying in the city centre. Stroll around the inner harbour for lovely views of the city’s classic, famous architecture of parliament buildings and grand old hotels; Government Street offers shopping and entertainment options, and look out for areas like Old Town, Chinatown, Market Square and Bastion Square for historical buildings and boutique browsing.

It’s also worthwhile finding your way to the famous Butchart Gardens and Craigdarroch Castle, and of course whale watching is a popular activity with numerous adventure companies offering a range of options to suit your time and budget.

We were lucky enough to be reunited with a fellow Expat Explorer from our brilliant August trip, which made this visit extra special.

Vancouver Island is definitely worth adding to your B.C. itinerary − it’s stunning, typical of the whole region, but with a slightly different feel to Vancouver city. Again, I feel fortunate to have visited such a pretty part of the world.

We adore Canada and British Columbia and believe it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Take a look for yourself here on Flickr

If you’re interested in more stories from this divine part of the world, you might also enjoy:

Heaven is Harrison Hot Springs

Coffee & cocktails in Gastown

Wonderful Whistler adventures

The X-Files and Vancouver travel journal

By Sarah Blinco
Heaven is Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia

Heaven is Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia

So far in our lives the only ‘hot spring’ town we’ve experienced is Moree in New South Wales (Australia). Now don’t get me wrong, we love Moree − we lived there for about two years, but Harrison Hot Springs (about 90-minutes drive from Vancouver), apart from also being a small town, couldn’t be more different − or scenic.

It is in fact, a sublime corner of the world that makes you want to pack up your bags to move! In all honesty, if you’re seeking beauty like Switzerland but without the price tag, add a destination like this in British Columbia (B.C.) to your ‘to see’ list.

Heaven is Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia

Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia is a town of around 2000 people. Harrison thrives as a cool tourist destination which boasts pretty homes, chic coffee shops, restaurants and hotels, surrounding mountain ranges, beaches, rivers, lakes, farmland and of course, divine mineral hot springs (accessible, as in Moree, via public pool facilities).

The quaint town was quieter this weekend because the weather is cooling down (hence the snow appearing on peaks above us), but the sun glistened so we were free to explore landscapes that appear to be directly from a Twilight or Once Upon a Time set (incidentally, both filmed in B.C.).

BC dog in wilderness Sarah Blinco travellivelearn

Even the commute from Vancouver on Friday afternoon was gorgeous − thanks to major traffic congestion we were forced to (literally) take the scenic route cross country, brightly lit by autumnal colours under a setting sun; and through classic old towns like Mission and Fort Langley – areas I recognise as popular filming ground for movies, and TV series’ including The X-Files, Supernatural, Smallville and Stargate.

Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia

We were introduced to the town by Phil (an old friend of Cooper’s) and his lovely wife, Susan.

Everyone we’ve met here has shown us warm, friendly hospitality, and we’ve done everything from enjoying delicious lattes by the beach overlooking snow-capped mountains, to walks around the town and local lake, hiking through vast open spaces, keeping an eye out for salmon and bald eagles. We watched ultralight aircrafts cruise across farmland, and enjoyed toasting marshmallows by a secluded river at sunset (pictured on this page).

It’s the ultimate B.C. escape, and a location also ideal for cycling, fishing, boating, golfing and getting back to nature. Harrison Hot Springs has reminded me, once again, why I believe this part of the world to be one of the most beautiful you could hope to discover on any journey.

There’s an added secret bonus in these parts too − it’s known as ‘Sasquatch (Bigfoot) Country’ − so keep your camera handy at all times because you may just need it for more than the scenery!

Further reading

If you’re interested in more stories from this divine part of the world, you might also enjoy:

The X-Files and Vancouver travel journal

Coffee & cocktails in Gastown

Wonderful Whistler adventures

Discovering Grouse Mountain and Victoria, Vancouver Island

Play flickr gallery:

Created with flickr slideshow.
Kayaking at Deep Cove in British Columbia

Kayaking at Deep Cove in British Columbia

I must admit my initial excitement was masked with a tinge of nervous tension as I was kitted out in my finest Kayaking ensemble by a boy not long into his teens. As I stood on the shore admiring the vast body of water framed by a coastline of tree-covered mountains and palatial homes, my fiancée sheepishly asked, “Have you done this before?”

Like a character from a softdrink commercial full of bravado I slowly wiped my chiseled chin, sporting a rather handsome three-day growth (let me embellish a little…) with my muscular forearm, and grunted, “Of course, we’ll be fine”.

Kayaking at Deep Cove in British Columbia Cooper Dawson

Kayaking at Deep Cove

As those final words left the corners of my dry mouth I remembered with apprehension my last kayaking experience, unbeknown to my now confident fiancée Sarah. It ended with me cold, wet and embarrassed with glowing red cheeks dragging my kayak to shore to the cheers and laughter of my ‘supportive’ classmates. Ah school, such fond memories!

Deep Cove, Vancouver

As we slowly slide into the glassy cold unknown, venturing into our kayaking at Deep Cove adventure (a mere 20-minutes ride by public transit or car from North Vancouver), I recall the instructions – first, drop rudder for steering; secondly, make sure pedals are properly adjusted to operate rudder and finally the easy part, paddle.  Why am I getting wet when I paddle? I keep telling myself it’s all part of the fun – until my bottom begins to feel moist… quite moist.

Deep Cover, Vancouver

There are several directions available to have a great daytrip, but today our destination was towards Jug Island (one of the closest destinations to Deep Cove). Like two Olympic kayakers we paddled for a solid twelve minutes directly east to shore towards Indian Arm Channel before we ran out of breath and started to overheat. Surprisingly distances can be quite deceiving to the uninitiated and inexperienced.  We paused for a photo opportunity and admired the many yachts and boats of all different shapes and sizes that glide effortlessly by us.

Kayaking at Deep Cove in British Columbia

Deep Cove is the epitome of the Canadian West Coast lifestyle. It truly is a magical place of beauty and serenity, occasionally punctuated by the sound of a two-stroke motor being driven by jovial kids singing hip hop tunes. We laughed and sang along as we enviously watched them fly by. Suddenly we were confronted by the overwhelming presence of their boat’s wake heading towards us. My fiancée, Sarah, begins to show signs of concern (evident by the growing panic in her voice). “We’ll be fine,” I assured her… Just listen to the sultry sound of my voice as I rock the kayak side to side hoping for a more panicked reaction (boys will be boys).

Deep Cove Vancouver

We recharge our batteries and paddle slowly towards Jug Island. Birds fly silently and float around us disinterested in our presence. After 45-minutes relaxing paddle we reached our destination and captured copious amounts of photos while drifting aimlessly with the current.

There’s something quite therapeutic about being surrounded by a great mass of tranquil water. Thoughts become clearer as your lungs fill with clean fresh air. ‘Picture postcard’ clouds hover and hug the wooded mountains like halos, as the sun’s ray’s warm chilled skin.

Kayaking at Deep Cove in British Columbia

We fantasise about owning one of the many gorgeous homes dotting the coastline until our conversation is interrupted by a dog barking from the veranda of a beautiful home perched high above us. More importantly, we were faced with the realisation that we had to paddle another kilometre east back to Deep Cove Marina.

Deep Cove, Vancouver

The marina, home to a plethora of yachts in the distance is our guide as we begin the arduous paddle back. To Sarah’s surprise and horror we were greeted by another speed boat cruising towards us and like any typical bloke, I can’t help myself and once again rock the kayak to the (amusing) sounds of panic from Sarah.

We adore Canada and British Columbia and believe it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Take a look for yourself here on Flickr
By Cooper Dawson
Best coffee and cocktails in Gastown

Best coffee and cocktails in Gastown

Best coffee and cocktails in Gastown Vancouver

Gastown, Vancouver: it’s an eclectic little area featuring numerous cool boutiques, galleries, bars, cafes, restaurants and chic stores.

As new-comers, we found it difficult to secure a summary of the best choices within the precinct so we decided to compose our own.

It’s pretty simple – if you’re after ambiance, great coffees or cocktails then try one of these splendid establishments.

The best coffee and cocktails in Gastown


375 Water Street
Tweet @SteamworksPub or on FACEBOOK

   Our number 1. pick… 

In our experience Steamworks offers by far the best service, value and cocktail selection. The food here is delicious, the atmosphere vibrant and we’ve enjoyed a great experience every time.

We met popular Bar Manager, Josh Taylor (pictured), who is evidently well-liked by patrons. He serves up a mean cocktail – all with a friendly smile and helpful service.

Dsc_1362_800x600We discovered Steamworks has not only the cheapest cocktails in Gastown but possibly the most innovative selection (the menu was redesigned recently, and Josh along with some other staff have carefully created bespoke options like the fab Nothing Rhymes with Orange).

We also tried the delicious Bellinias well as one of their famous locally brewed beers. There are daily drink specials on offer at Steamworks, as well as a ‘Brewer’s Choice Beer of the Day’.

Drinking for a good cause. Back in 2011, Josh designed a special cocktail for the month of Movember, kind of an offshoot of the Dark & Stormy – totally delicious, and a percentage of proceeds from the sale of each was put towards fundraising for Steamworks’ very own Movember crew, Team Happy Fun Ball. Cheers!


210 Carrall Street
Tweet @TheIrishHeather or on FACEBOOK

With its comfy, chic interior this place is easy to spend time in. It’s renowned as being the number 1. seller of Guinness in the city (about $7/pint). There’s also fine coffees, cocktails and dining on offer.

131 Water Street
Tweet @131Water or on FACEBOOK

This cosy little bar serves up inexpensive cocktails like the signature classic Bourbon & Sour, as well as a delicious selection that uses 131’s own house-made lemonade – yummy!

212 Carrall Street

These guys know their coffee. If you’re seeking decent menu choices and a sleek coffee stop, take a look inside.

216 Carrall Street

Daily drink and food specials mean this pub is always thriving.


117-131 Water Street
Tweet @smartmouthcafe

A favourite local haunt – this place is typically ‘Vancouver cool’ – kick your morning off with a delicious coffee and a quirky quote that is posted on a board outside the store daily.


3 Alexander Street

This gorgeous venue always captures our attention when we’re walking through Gastown. It’s as cool inside as it looks from the outside. Don’t envy those sitting under the (occasional) sun in the street sipping on their cocktails – drop in and enjoy your own, and ask about one of Chill Winston’s signature drinks such as the Spooning Jesus…


Courtyard of 12 Water Street
Tweet @bonetavan or on FACEBOOK

Set within the quaint courtyard of 12 Water Street, Boneta boasts a chic environment, divine yet reasonably priced menu and a selection of delicious coffees and classic cocktails. The open kitchen means you can even watch the chefs do their thang while you sit back and enjoy the surroundings.

36 Powell Street

Fabulous interior and delightful drinks, this coffee house offers a unique concept for enjoying your daily brew.

Have we missed your favourite Gastown coffee and/or cocktails hotspot, or would you like to give a shout-out to your fave that’s listed above? Feel free to share as a ‘comment’ below…

If you’re interested in more stories from this divine part of the world, you might also enjoy:

Heaven is Harrison Hot Springs

The X-Files and Vancouver travel journal

Wonderful Whistler adventures

Discovering Grouse Mountain and Victoria, Vancouver Island

Awesome Vancouver artist Lisa Penz

Awesome Vancouver artist Lisa Penz

One thing we’ve noticed about Vancouver is that there is quite a bit of funky art around. We love the culture that is evident, especially when wandering around Downtown or in Gastown.

There was even art on display when we were at Stanley Park a few weeks back. You can always catch filming going on in the streets here, photography walking tours taking place that anyone can join, creative cocktails and coffee, acting and music workshops, or an art show popping up on one street or another.

It’s brilliant!

Vancouver artist Lisa Penz 

By Lisa PenzEven if you don’t know very much about a certain discipline, it’s always worth stepping outside your realm to learn new things. If something looks interesting, check it out and ask questions about it.

On that note, today we were fortunate enough to catch the end of Vancouver artist Lisa Penz‘s current exhibition in the city.

She is a gorgeous person and her art (which has been internationally exhibited) is contemporary and cool. I don’t know too much about art, but personally I love her use of colour and expression. With over ten years artistic and design experience under her belt, from time living in North America and as far away as Australia, she sparkles with a wealth of inspiration that is apparent in her work. She is consistently adding new work to her collection and I’d say Lisa is definitely one to watch from the North American scene.

Support the talent. You can check out all Lisa’s details online at, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for news, openings, exhibition details and updates.

Image via Lisa Penz Flickr