Vancouver: City of glass

By Joanne Carroll

Joanne Carroll has a high time above the clouds in Vancouver.

Vancouver is home to more than two million people and has plenty of green spaces to take in the city's beauty. Photo / Tourism BC
Vancouver is home to more than two million people and has plenty of green spaces to take in the city's beauty. Photo / Tourism BC

Wind turbines create a lot of controversy in New Zealand but, whether you consider them to be an eyesore or green, it's pretty awesome to be on top of one.

The Eye of the Wind is the world's first commercial wind turbine which allows sightseers up to a "viewPOD" at the top. At the summit of Vancouver's skifield resort Grouse Mountain, the Eye of the Wind is a 65m tower with a Plexiglas bubble on top.

As you exit the elevator you find yourself inside the viewPOD which offers 360-degree views.

The viewPOD is similar to those of the London Eye, holds 36 people and sits below the massive 38m blades of the wind turbine.

The bubble shakes and moves when the blades are moving and, with a glass segment in the floor, it is not for those scared of heights but the view is jaw-dropping.

You can see all of Vancouver and its busy harbour, the coastal mountains and a vast green forest spread out as far as the eye can see.

It's best to go late afternoon and watch the sunset.

Grouse Mountain is worth a visit even when there is no snow.

You can have a bite to eat at the Altitudes Bistro, which offers amazing views of the city, or wander around the Wildlife Refuge for Endangered Animals and see the two resident grizzly bears.

The two bears, Grinder and Coola, came to the refuge as orphans and spend four months of the winter hibernating in a wooden enclosure. But in the summer they roam in a 2ha habitat.

Experiences like this reinforce that although Vancouver is a city of more than two million people, you never feel far from nature. It has the shopping, culture and nightlife of any cosmopolitan city, but is enveloped by water and mountains, containing 1298ha of parks and 18km of beaches.

Vancouver is one of the warmest Canadian cities, originally founded on a temperate rainforest. The people are friendly, diverse, outdoorsy and artistic. The city is ranked as one of the most liveable but has some of the most overpriced real estate in the world.

For visitors, a range of accommodation is available, from motels and hostels to five-star hotels.

The four-star Coast Coal Harbour Hotel is modern and on the waterfront within walking distance of Stanley Park, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Convention Centre and the trendy shopping districts of Gastown and Robson St.

The Visitor Centre on Burrard St is a first port of call. From here you can rent a bike for a scenic ride through Stanley Park, one of the largest parks in North America at 404ha.

It is a flat ride around the nine km seawall, stopping at view points of the cityscape, totem poles scattered among the trees and the Vancouver Aquarium.

Children - and the not so young - will love this home to more than 70,000 animals. The guides take you on an educational tour of how the aquarium is dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life.

As well as dolphins, seals and otters, a favourite is the white beluga whales. You might even get to hear some visitors singing Baby Beluga, a song by children's entertainer Raffi which was inspired by a baby beluga he saw at the Aquarium.

In the Amazon room birds, lizards, tortoises, sloths and butterflies roam. Visitors can interact with the animals, touch some starfish and sea anemone and have a different experience with the 4D theatre.

After the aquarium you can hold on to your bikes or take advantage of the convenient public transport system.

Getting around Vancouver is easy by the transit system TransLink, made up of a network of buses, SeaBus and SkyTrain.

Free shuttle buses operate from the city centre to attractions such as the Capilano Suspension Bridge, 70m above and 137m across Capilano River.

The bridge shakes and swings a bit but is made of reinforced steel anchored in 13 tonnes of concrete on either side of the canyon.

The original bridge was constructed of hemp rope and cedar planks in 1888.

On the other side of the canyon, visitors can "take a squirrel's view" of the forest with the Treetops Adventure. It is a short walk taking in seven suspension bridges and treetop platforms, some reaching as high as 30m above the rainforest floor.

Not for the faint-hearted is a thrilling new attraction at the park, aptly called Cliffhanger.

This journey takes you through the rainforest on a series of suspended walkways jutting out from the cliff face above the Capilano River. In some sections the walkway is glass.

Another interesting element of the park is the cultural experience at the Story Centre where you can learn about the history of the area and its people.

Archaeology has unearthed a 10,000-year presence of aboriginal people in the area and the park pays tribute to the First Nations with a large collection of colourful totem poles and meeting houses.

After enjoying Vancouver's natural side by day, you can indulge in its cosmopolitan restaurant scene at night. Chambar is a Belgian restaurant run by three-star, Michelin-trained chef Nico Schuermans, offering fine dining in an unpretentious atmosphere.

Start with a cocktail in the long bar with intimate booths set along the redbrick walls with designer lighting.

Chambar specialises in local fish and seafood, particularly mussels. Done three ways, the mussels are smaller than we find in New Zealand but are tender and tasty, and served in large crocks with hot chips.

A highlight was Arctic Char carpaccio, served with a jalapeno vinaigrette, pepperdew, capers, creme fraiche and sunchoke chips, and spot prawns when they're in season. They melt in the mouth.

To round out the night, head to bars and clubs of Granville St.

Granville Island

There is something for everyone in Granville Island. Made up of two sandbars, the Island is connected to downtown by the Granville St bridge, but a scenic route is the False Creek AquaBus.

You could spend a whole day on Granville, which is an artist's haven, shopper's wonderland and foodie's delight.Explore the Granville Island Public Market with an empty stomach, as vendors offer samples.

At the Sandbar Seafood Restaurant fresh seafood can be enjoyed on the deck looking out over a stunning view of the city and the North Shore mountains.

The artisan roaster at Origins Coffee Company offers a coffee roasting demonstration, as well as rich offerings of the black stuff.

For those looking for something even stronger they can sample house-made beer at the Granville Island Brewing Company.

Visit the artist studios to see the artists at work, and buy some of their goods including hats, shoes and jewellery.

Further information:

Tourism Vancouver

Grouse Mountain Resorts

The Coast Coal Harbour Hotel

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Aquabus Ferries Ltd.

Sandbar Seafood Restaurant

Tourism British Columbia

Joanne Carroll travelled to Vancouver courtesy of Air New Zealand and Tourism British Columbia.

- NZ Herald

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