Adventures on a Seaplane
It’s amazing how easy it is to make the switch from tourist to resident when you move to a new place. One minute you dedicate every waking moment to reading guidebooks, newspapers and blogs to find out what you might possibly be missing out on, and the next you find yourself knee deep in routine and very much at the centre of your comfort zone. I speak from experience, as in 16 short months I have gone from super tourist with camera and cartoon map at the ready, to settled resident who sees nothing but the pavement on the way to the SkyTrain station every morning. Don’t get me wrong, there are some novelties I’ll never get sick of (Granville Island is in all the guidebooks for a reason), but every now and again it’s good to awaken my inner tourist and try something new. In this particular case, my inner tourist was awakened by someone other than me. A friend from my BUNAC group flight, who had since moved back to the UK, was back out to visit and brought with her a bucket list of things she didn’t get round to doing when she lived here. Right at the top was a trip on a seaplane.
Vancouver, and in particular the exclusive Coal Harbour neighbourhood, is synonymous with seaplanes. When you’re in a city surrounded by water and islands, there’s only one way to see it properly. Whether you’re looking for a 20 minute introduction to flying or a day trip to Vancouver Island (and beyond), a seaplane will cater to your every need. The package we decided to go with was a 45 minute experience with 35 minutes in the air, and the weather on the morning of our flight could not have been more perfect. We arrived at the seaplane terminal and made our way down the ramp onto the loading pontoons where our DeHavilland DHC-3 Turbine Single Otter was waiting for us. It was much smaller inside than I thought it would be, and I was glad it was a friend I was squeezing into such a tiny double seat with.
Tip: When the airline books passengers onto a tours they continue to do so until the plane is full. What they don’t tell you is that ‘full’ takes into account the passenger seat in the cockpit next to the pilot. As I boarded the plane, the pilot asked me if I wanted to take that seat, however I politely declined as that would have meant abandoning my friend to the cozy confines of said tight seat with a stranger. Because of this I can’t tell you if the view was any better up front, but I imagine it was quite the experience. If you’re treating a friend or family member to a special experience (or even yourself), make sure to be at the front of the boarding line and ask the pilot if he’s looking for anyone to fill his passenger seat. Chances are, he will be.
The flight itself went north from Downtown Vancouver across the North Shore mountains and up towards Whistler, before cutting back around and returning over the beautiful islands of the Sunshine Coast. The bright blue water looked stunning next to the mountains, which still had copious amounts of snow on the top depute the blazing sunshine. and 23 degree heat. I took many, many photos, and it was this trip that finally convinced me that the camera on my iPhone was actually much better than that on my, well, my actual camera. Plus, the built in GPS tracked the exact location of every photo, which helped us plot our exact route when we got home. The size of the windows (small) and the amount of people in the plane (lots) meant that taking high quality photos was a little trickier than expected, but with the right amount of leaning over people I managed to get a few good shots. A highlight of mine was flying over the now infamous house(s) and waterfront tennis court of Ronnie Seterdahl from The Real Housewives of Vancouver at the bottom of the Sea to Sky highway. I was surprised to see that its luxury or size didn’t stand out among the other beautiful mansions we flew over, and I found myself playing my own personal game of ‘count the swimming pool’; a game that had last been left off after my one descent into Miami in 1999.
The downside to all this beauty is that it doesn’t come cheap. The Extended Panorama tour we took with Harbour Air was advertised at $169 + tax, though we ended up getting a discount because of a mix up with our booking. This was very much appreciated as I do have to say that I’m not sure it would be worth the original price, especially as the flight was actually only 25 minutes instead of the expected 35. The other gripe I have is that the route the plane took meant that those sitting on the right hand side of the plane (me) were always on the opposite side to the city, which meant we could only catch glimpses of Downtown and Stanley Park between the tourists and their cameras pressed up against the windows opposite us. For the price each person was paying, I’d expected the tour to include stellar views from both sides.
Overall, this is a fantastic experience that I fully recommend to anyone wanting to see a lot of Vancouver’s scenery in a short space of time, and in the safety of a seaplane. For anyone looking for a bit more of a thrill with their aerial view, you might prefer to spend the extra $30 and try paragliding instead.