Vancouver, Vancouver Island & Victoria With Chevrolet Equinox
With the hot selling of Chevrolet Equinox, I had the longest and toughest test drive I ever had. No complaints at all: this trip with the Chevrolet Equinox was worth taking. Driving the Chevrolet car across the Southern British Columbia up to Alberta’s spectacular Banff was almost a life-time adventure. And my road mate Chevrolet Equinox was amazing, one of the most successful models of the bow tie brand Chevrolet in the last three years. The compact SUV of Chevrolet is produced also in Canada. General Motors (GM), to meet the high demand for Chevrolet Equinox and the GMC Terrain, its cousin, fired up the production and moved to a three-shift pace in Ingersoll, Ontario.
GM provided a range-topping LTZ version with 2.4 liter, 182 HP four-cylinder Ecotec (gasoline) engine with variable valve timing, a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive to support my discoveries in British Columbia and Alberta. I started in Burnaby, in the Greater Vancouver Area and returned with the Chevrolet Equinox to the same location (Carter, a GM dealership) after five days and a total mileage of 2485 kilometers.
To me, the exterior design of the Chevrolet Equinox is evolutionary. It is cute and modern, but does not deter a conservative Chevrolet driver either.
After the exterior design of this Chevrolet model, it is very important to me to gain familiarity with and “like” the dashboard of Chevrolet Equinox. The interior design of Chevrolet Equinox gives a very strong first impression thanks to high quality materials and workmanship. Such a quality perception for a Chevrolet model would be almost impossible less than 7 years ago. Well, it may sound a bit strange but think of this: When you drive your car, this is the part which always captures your eyes. The horizontally angled center console and dashboard of the Chevrolet model were nice and the extension over the navigation screen largely avoided a reflection. Smart solutions don’t have to be expensive. The dashboard of the Chevrolet Equinox is largely identical to the one in the Chevrolet Cruze and this makes a lot of sense from the cost point of view. Mrs. Chrystal Windham, Interior Design Director and a woman was responsible for the “inside”. Probably one small drawback was that the center console is populated with too many buttons reminding me of the “crowded” purse of a woman. Maybe, this is some sort of female signature.
The Chevrolet Equinox I drove costs almost 40 grand. It is a tough asking price for a Chevrolet, even if the leading brand of GM, like other brands in the group made a huge progress in quality. However, you can undercut this price by even a couple of thousand dollars through campaigns, manufacturer and dealer incentives and tough bargaining.
In the compact SUV category with competitors like; Toyota RAV-4, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson and Ford Escape, the customer is the king.
Vancouver: The Ocean City
For many years, Vancouver has been leading the list of the most livable cities in the world. Why? This was the first question I attempted to answer as I started to discover the third biggest city of Canada. Greater Vancouver Area has a population of 2, 3 million.
The name originates from Captain George Vancouver, an officer of the British Royal Navy who explored and charted North America’s northwestern Pacific Coast regions during his expedition between 1791 and 1795. The city is Canada’s gateway to the Far East. Sixty per cent of the population is of the Asian descent and mostly Chinese. The first Chinese people arrived here in the late 19th century to work at the construction of the Trans Pacific Railway. They shed blood and tears for a united Canada through this railway. (Remember the fact that British Columbia joined the Confederation on the condition of the extension of Trans-Pacific Railway until Vancouver.) However, Canada did not always appreciate their efforts. In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a full apology for the discriminatory policies and subsequent exclusion of Chinese Immigrants from 1923 to 1947. In the closer past, tens of thousands of Chinese moved to Canada and Vancouver particularly when Britain handed over the control of Hong Kong to China in 1997. They were worried about the future under the communist governance. Money poured into Canada and the city of Vancouver benefited from it most. Even if these fears largely did not come true and Hong Kong managed to maintain its semi-independent status, the movement of wealth made Vancouver the most expensive city in Canada in terms of housing prices (the average home price was 961K around mid of 2012). The spectacular growth of China in the last three decades helped as well. However, ask a native Vancouverite and you will probably trigger anger. I met someone who said that “he lives in a condo not bigger than a truck bed and pays around 40K of property tax.” A food critic from Vancouver recently talked to Heidi Hollinger, the host of the famous documentary series: “Waterfront Cities of the World.” He confessed: “I do not believe that my child be able to afford a house here.”
However, no city is immune to economic crises and uncertainties. Since this summer, house prices in Vancouver dropped about 30 per cent.
Well, property prices set aside, Vancouver is really beautiful. The core of the city is a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the Port of Vancouver. The famous Stanley Park, the gateway to the city is four square kilometers big and to me a symbol of quality of life and a proof why Vancouver is one of the most livable cities. Stanley Park is a piece of earth for the people of Vancouver and offers almost everything imaginable for a healthy and sustainable life style. Biking, swimming, canoeing, dog walking and almost everything else you can imagine to enjoy and environmentally sustain your life is available here.
Vancouver is an environmentally conscious city and motor vehicles are not always appreciated.
I was lucky since I saw mostly the sunny side of the city. I have a friend who told me he witnessed almost two months of uninterrupted rain in winter.
Fortunately, as I was walking in Canada Place, I did not have to worry about the rain. Being one of Vancouver’s landmark buildings, Canada Place was opened for Expo 1986 and its fabric roofs resembling sails provoke comparisons to the famous Sydney Opera.
If you want to bring your car to Downtown, it costs around 10 dollars per hour. And beware of the new posting system in the parking near the Canada Place. This is an unmanned facility. You have to record your license plate number as soon as you enter the parking area and pay just before exiting. Otherwise, you may be subject to a fine which doubles the normal parking fee.
Eating at Vancouver
In walking distance from the Canada Place, Black Frog is a nice place to have some wonderful fish and chips and a huge selection of (bottled or tap) beer. You can hear the whistle of the famous Steam Clock, only steps away from here, every fifteen minutes while sipping your Heineken or Molson.
After an early dinner break in this beautiful place in historic Gastown, I sat behind the steering wheel and crossed the Lions Gate Bridge to North Vancouver. It was nice to watch the city from a distance. It was a pity that I did not have the time to climb to the Grouse Mountain, the have a wonderful panoramic view of the city. (I came back a couple days later. But this time, Vancouver was so rainy and you could not see anything from the top.)
To cross from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo in the south middle section of the Island, I took the ferry and it lasts one hour and 45 minutes. I stayed in Courtenay, where my wife’s aunt and her husband live. I spent a short and wonderful time with them. Our trip with the Chevrolet Equinox covered parts of the Comox Valley in the middle and southern regions of the Vancouver Island. This beautiful piece of land, with 19K square kilometers is close to the size of Thrace, Turkey’s European part. My trip here was as intense as inspiring. On the same day, I joined a barbecue party under the sun, touched a piece of snow on top of the Washington Mountain and had to patiently yield to the deer and elks on the streets of Comox, the central town of the valley with the same name.
Victoria, the Capital
Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. The beautiful city is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and is 187 km from Courtenay. With a population of around 344,000 (including the greater metropolitan area) it is relatively small even for Canada but gives you the flavor of Old England with its beautiful gardens, Victorian and Georgian Architecture. At around 10 a.m. on a wonderful Sunday morning I arrived at the harbor front of Victoria, BC’s capital. After watching the waltz of the boats in the inner harbor, I navigated the corridors of the Empress Hotel, which witnessed the magnificent, old days of the British Empire and insists to do so with its tea ceremonies. This is a tribute to Victorian Times.
As I was preparing to leave, the police blocked the roads for a spectacular gay parade which lasted more than one hour and attracted a few thousand participants from across the province and even south of the border.
Back to Vancouver and Beyond
A-three hour stay was definitely not enough for this beautiful city. However, my “mission” had a tight schedule and I took the ferry from Sydney, about 25 kilometers north of Victoria to Vancouver. Thanks to wonderful weather, I spent most of the travel time on the open deck of the ferry and reached the mainland in less than two hours.
The ferry cruise from Victoria to Vancouver is a feast for the soul and eyes
As the tires of the Chevrolet Equinox touched the ground again in Tsawwassen, 40 kilometers south of Vancouver, the real adventure on the road was just beginning.
The Fraser Valley, Kamloops, Rogers Pass, Banff and the Okanagan Valley
Mainland and Beyond
As I drove out my Chevrolet Equinox of the ferry in the mainland, Vancouver was about 40 kilometers away. I took a short break in Burnaby, filled up the tank of Chevrolet Equinox , and ready for the long drive until Banff: This was 967 kilometers. Not an easy bite especially when you drive alone. I had already driven the Chevrolet Equinox about 260 km’s since early this morning. Fast-pace walking in Victoria and photo-shooting at every possible stop and location are excluded.
After 158 kilometers of driving with Chevrolet Equinox, I arrived at Hope, a small town and a “bridgehead” in the Rocky Mountains before immersing into the Fraser Valley. The sun was no more and it was raining. So, I decided to spend the night in Hope. I slept in the Chevrolet Equinox. This was the maximum amount of “outdoor” adventure I can bear. In the next morning I had a quick breakfast in Tim Horton’s before hitting the pedal.
After heavy rains of the last two weeks, the magnificent Fraser River was close to overflow its riverbed and in Hope, all lake shore walking areas were closed to public for safety reasons.
Instead of taking BC 97N to Kelowna (I spared this shorter route for my return drive), I took Trans Canada Hwy 1 to the North up until Cash Creek. This winding and scenic section of Canada’s “main street” provokes several stops to enjoy the beauty of the mighty Fraser River and Valley, called also the world’s largest salmon river. The name of this 1,375 km-long waterway originates from Simon Fraser, who led an expedition on behalf of North West Company from Prince George to the mouth in Strait of Georgia near Vancouver. I took several stops with my Chevrolet Equinox for taking pictures, to talk to a road safety officer and watching eternally long freight trains along the Fraser River carrying the natural resources of Canada to the Port of Vancouver or to the East.
Canada, the world’s second biggest country in size, is generally very flat and boring in terms of altitude. The Rocky Mountains in the West constitute a great exception to this uniformity and you have to drive to experience this variety. As I moved to the North, I observed the sudden change in landscape especially after Hell’s Gate. Forests slightly disappear and yield to “naked” land as my compact crossover with bow tie approached Cash Creek.
A Strange Museum:
After a midday break in Kamloops, a mining and resource processing centre, I set Revelstoke as my next target. On my way, I noticed an Auto Museum near Salmon Arm overlooking the Shuswap Lake. This museum was about to close eternally in a short time and the last items had been put on sale. I was most probably of the last visitors there.
Revelstoke is the best place to take a lunch break or rest before immersing into the Rogers Pass ending near Golden 80 kilometers away.
This small town with a population of about 7,000 was founded in the 1880s when the Canadian Pacific Railway was built through the area and mining was an important early industry.
The Rogers Pass is a symbol of the United Canada. It is one of the most important parts of the 7,821 km-long Trans Canada Highway stretching from Victoria in BC to St John’s in Newfoundland. Like the Canadian-Pacific Railway, it is crucial for the unification of a vast country particularly at times of an unwired world. When I visited the Rogers Pass, the 50. Anniversary was only a few weeks away: On September 3, 1962, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, officially tamped down the “last patch” of asphalt in the opening ceremony at the Summit Monument, where I stood. Constructing the first all-season, two-lane road across Canada had taken 12 years and cost nearly 1B. The elevation here is 1,330 meters. Before that, people had to use the 305 km-long Big Bend Highway with a gravel surface connecting Golden and Revelstoke. This road was so difficult to pass so that people usually preferred the train with their cars on board. When the Trans Canadian Highway was built, the Big Bend Highway gradually disappeared under the reservoir waters of Kinbasket Lake in 1970’s.
Banff & the Lakes
When I crossed from British Columbia to Alberta, I was close to Banff, arguably Canada’s most beautiful tourist destination. This was also almost the eastern border of the Rocky Mountains.
Arriving in Banff in the evening was the end of my nearly thousand-km drive since Vancouver. The destination created also some kind of driver relief: I had crossed The Rockies and reached almost the Albertan flatlands. At an elevation of 1,463 m, Banff is the community with the second highest elevation in Canada after Lake Louise. So, you may think you conquered the mountains and now sit on top of one of them (!)
Sadly, I had to remember that I had less than 24 hours to discover Banff before returning to Vancouver (and this would be another long drive). The Spruce Grove Inn, a mountain hotel reminiscent of an Austrian or Swiss Inn was a gift for an exhausted lonely driver like me.
Banff. Yes. This place is truly Alpine Canada. You should see Banff first, before you take an intercontinental flight to the European Alps. The Town of Banff is also the first municipality incorporated within a Canadian national park.
Surrounded by Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay, and Cascade Mountain, Banff gives you the impression of a hidden valley waiting to be discovered and even somewhat surreal. The town is situated above Bow Falls near the confluence of the Bow River and Spray River.
It is a destination for outdoor sports and features extensive hiking, biking, scrambling and skiing areas within the “Park”. Sunshine Village, Ski Norquay and Lake Louise Mountain Resort are the three nearby ski resorts located within the national park.
Banff was first settled in the 1880s, after the transcontinental railway was built through the Bow Valley. In 1883, three Canadian Pacific Railway workers stumbled upon a series of natural hot springs on the side of Sulphur Mountain. In 1885, Canada established a federal reserve of 26 km2 around the Cave and Basin hot springs, and began promoting the area as an international resort and spa as a way to support the new railway. In 1887, the reserve area was increased to 673 km2 and named “Rocky Mountain Park.” This was the beginning of Canada’s National Park system.
The area was named Banff in 1884 by George Stephen, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, recalling his birthplace in Banffshire, Scotland. The Canadian Pacific built a series of grand hotels along the rail line and advertised the Banff Springs Hotel as an international tourist resort. A visit to Banff is not complete without seeing this monumental hotel.
Even if the railways do not have the same importance today, there is no doubt that Canadian Pacific Railway played a crucial role in shaping Banff’s future.
Lake Louise & Lake Moraine
A visit to Banff is never complete without seeing the two famous lakes, Louise and Moraine. Both lakes are located about 50 kilometers west of Banff. So I preferred to visit those two “must-see’s” during my return drive.
Lake Louise was named after the Princess Louise Caroline Alberta (1848–1939), the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, and has a stunning beauty. The emerald colour of the water comes from rock flour carried into the lake by melt-water from the glaciers that overlook the lake. The lake has a surface of 0.8 km2 and is drained through the 3 km long Louise Creek into the Bow River.
While at Lake Louise, in less than one hour I also visited Fairmont‘s Chateau Lake Louise, one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, on Lake Louise’s eastern shore. It is a luxury resort hotel built in the early decades of the 20th century by, yes, again, the Canadian Pacific Railway. I questioned the balance between keeping its monopoly status on the shore and allowing a second or even third facility for more competition. However, this fragile ecosystem will probably not be able to cope with significantly more tourists, let alone a second or third hotel.
Like Louise, Lake Moraine is a glacially-fed lake 14 kilometers outside the Village of Lake Louise. Situated in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, and it has an elevation of approximately 1,885 m. The lake has a surface area of .5 square kilometers
Both lakes, being glacially fed, do not reach their crest until mid to late June.
Farmers’ Sandwich in Revelstoke
Returning from Banff, Revelstoke was a again my stopping point for a dinner break at Denny’s. My single choice: Farmer’s sandwich Saskatchewan style with beef, mashed potatoes and gravy sauce.
Okanagan Valley and Kelowna
With its unique microclimate, vines of this region gradually become known across Canada (at least) and nice landscape of blue lakes and green hills, Okanagan Valley attracts more and more somewhat “rich” retired people and tourists from across Canada and even the United States.
After overnight stay in Vernon, I drove to Coldstream in the Greater Vernon Area at the Kalamalka Lake.
Coldstream is best known for Coldstream Ranch. Forbes and Charles Vernon discovered the potential of this region and founded the famous Coldstream Ranch at the lake side in 1864. Its products ranged from stagecoach horses to vegetables and hops. Once Coldstream was Canada’s largest orchard. The ranch was purchased by its current owners in 1944 and continues to be a working cattle ranch.
While enjoying the scenic view of the Kalamalka Lake from the hilltop, I met a guy, who used to live in Banff for many years. I attempted to mention the privilege of being a local in Banff. He inhaled and said: “It is not always great. Have you ever thought of lining up behind tens of tourists in a grocery shop just to buy bread?” I had never thought it this way.
Back to Vancouver
With almost no time to spend in Kelowna, I took the BC 97 via Hope to Vancouver. I was so tired that the last 100 kilometers after Hope turned to be endless. I had to stop my Chevrolet Equinox and take a nap in Yellow Barn in Abbotsford.
About the Chevrolet Equinox
Finally, I arrived with my Chevrolet Equinox in Burnaby, east of the Greater Vancouver Area in the late afternoon. As I turned off the engine of the Chevrolet Equinox, the tachometer read 2,485 kilometers. In just five days. Mission accomplished with zero problems (with the exception of OnStar).
The Chevrolet Equinox demonstrated its reliability and comfort as a compact, yet fun-to-drive crossover in city, as well in highways or winding mountainous roads. That’s the verdict.
The average fuel consumption of the Chevrolet Equinox varied between 10,5 & 11,5 liters per 100 kilometers. This is still not a class-leading fuel economy even for an all-wheel drive car (LTZ AWD weighs 1,811 kg’s) considering the high-tech features of this Chevrolet model such as, direct injection and VVT (variable valve timing) and the dominantly highway cruising. Or, did I drive a bit uneconomically? I am not sure. At least, I only instantaneously exceeded legal speed limits while passing. Not only this: I think that a fine-tuning of the automatic transmission to reduce the noise and the consumption would be good. Definitely, GM engineers already noted these issues for the next gen model. Although the Chevrolet Equinox is a very good crossover, tough competitors like the new Honda CR-V, The Hyundai Tucson and the new Ford Escape were introduced since the launch of the Chevrolet Equinox.
Long hours of driving require good concentration. This is especially true if you are traveling alone. As the Germans say: “What determines how well you drive is how well you are seated.” This was proven true when I was very satisfied with the seats of the Chevrolet Equinox. Days are soft cushion seats in American cars are almost over.
OnStar or GPS Navigation
The Chevrolet Equinox was equipped both with a GPS navigation and OnStar Telematics system. OnStar is a great driver assistance system offering various services from turn-by-turn navigation, remote vehicle diagnostics, hand-free calling to emergency services and automatic crash response. It is good to have all these features of this Chevrolet model accessible at the push of a button. Luckily, I never needed OnStar while driving the Chevrolet car for any emergencies, but had an opportunity to test the navigational assistance in comparison with and supplementary to the GPS navigation. However, it was hard to believe that the route calculations showed and error of up to 60 per cent (yes six zero). On my way from Kamloops to Banff with Chevrolet Equinox, I had more than one conversation with very friendly and responsive people at the OnStar call center and they could not figure out why OnStar overstated distances so vastly. OnStar thought that the deviation might relate to the mile/kilometer conversion (error) but this proved not to be correct. Fortunately, the Chevrolet Equinox built-in GPS navigation system worked almost perfectly and always delivered the correct calculations.
OnStar is now available also for other brands as an aftermarket product and I am sure that such errors will be eliminated very soon.
This was one of the fastest-pace auto adventures of my life with Chevrolet Equinox. And it left very good memories. The Chevrolet Equinox is immersed into these memories.
General Motors Canada provided the vehicle.
Academy Travels covered return flight from Toronto to Vancouver, accommodation and fuel costs
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