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Autumn in Vancouver a real show-stopper

AAP logoAAP 16/10/2016 Maureen Dettre

It's September in Vancouver and Prince William and Kate are in town. But as I peruse their happy snaps in the morning papers over my coffee, I also come across pictures of 450kg grizzly bears.

Apparently they're in town, too - having swum to a village near the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

Grizzlies are reported over most of British Colombia, but have never before been sighted on the island, where smaller black bears are prevalent. Their arrival has some people worried about their changing behaviours.

I'd arrived in Vancouver the previous day and, unlike the royal couple, had no itinerary, no real plans and no invitation to the ball at Government House. Jetlagged, I had just a half-day to explore the city (or surrender to the hotel bed) before hopping on a luxury liner for a cruise to Los Angeles.

What to do? With no idea and no map, I decided to wing it and head to the harbour.

There are no grizzlies or moose in sight. But as I cast my weary eyes around the waterfront, I see a bustling hive of activity in what is clearly the jewel of the city.

It's easy to see why Vancouver has won a swathe of urban planning awards for a city that's ideal for living, working and playing. Those aspects seem to blend seamlessly at Coal Harbour.

The waterfront has a huge convention centre, offices, restaurants and facilities. City workers, convention delegates and tourists hover around, while cruise ships load cargo and anchored freighters wait to unload. Sailing boats dot the harbour and hug jetties, and a fleet of seaplanes are whisking passengers off on sightseeing tours.

In the distance, the majestic Lions Gate Bridge stretches across vast, blue water.

But it's no ordinary-looking harbour. The seascape is dominated by a mountain skyline and fringed with forests, lending credence to the boast that Vancouverites can ski in the morning and sail in the afternoon. At False Creek, a short inlet that separates downtown from the rest of the city, you can charter a skippered yacht to take in the city's unique melange of sights: mountains, city, ocean and forests.

Because it's autumn, I opt to stay on dry land to see up-close a season that in Canada is a real show-stopper. There is a kaleidoscope of colours at every turn. With that fantastic, ruby-red maple leaf flag in mind, I set off to find its inspiration.

I follow the Coal Harbour seawall around the winding peninsula and head towards Stanley Park. It's a 12km hike so I follow the lead of others and hire a bike at a handy harbourside shop.

There's a dedicated bike track that snakes around the waterfront, but I struggle to remember to stay on the right. It's an easy cycle (even for the weary) and popular with cycling enthusiasts, joggers, rollerbladers and families with prams and trikes.

The route is dotted with pretty red and white painted lighthouses, quaint floating maritime supply shops, jetties, harbourside restaurants and shops, and tiny, brightly painted house boats that look like they belong in a toy box. The mild maritime climate lends itself perfectly to getting out and about, and there's plenty of bonhomie.

In Stanley Park there are tourists taking a horse-drawn carriage ride and a field of colourful totem poles, typical of the region. But the true star is the forest of deciduous trees, with their leaves showering a seasonal splendour of blazing reds, yellows, crimson, orange and golds. It's a "leaf-peepers" paradise and a sharp contrast to the dark, lush evergreens.

Everywhere there's a carpet of ruddy, red maple leaves offering the perfect souvenirs for free.

Arriving at the port of Victoria the next day, I adopt the same approach by going on a bike tour. If you're time-poor, it's an efficient and relaxing way to explore. And this time I have the benefit of a guide to explain the sights, customs, architecture and history.

We end up at Fisherman's Wharf and I finally have an encounter with Canadian wildlife. Harbour seals come up to the wharf and delight tourists and children by performing tricks for fish.

It's not grizzlies, moose or elk, but I'm pretty satisfied.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Vancouver is serviced daily from Brisbane by Air Canada (www.aircanada.com). United Airlines flies travellers from Melbourne and Sydney to Vancouver via various US cities (www.united.com).

STAYING THERE: The comfortable Le Soleil is a short walk to the harbour. Visit: www.hotellesoleil.com/

PLAYING THERE: Urban Waves Bike Rental at the seawall in Coal Harbour, Vancouver, rents bikes for just $12 for two hours with $2 extra for the helmet. You pay upon return for the number of hours you keep the bike. Unlike other bike rental places, it's open until 9pm.

A two-hour guided cycling tour of Victoria British Columbia costs approximately $100 with bike, helmet and water provided.

* The writer travelled as a guest of Norwegian Cruise Lines and flew United Airlines.

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