Make tracks to city beaches in Vancouver

February 2, 2015

Yan Li (left) and Gang Xiao reached Wreck Beach from Pacific Spirit Regional Park’s Trail 4.

Yan Li (left) and Gang Xiao reached Wreck Beach from Pacific Spirit Regional Park’s Trail 4.

If there’s one sight visitors to Vancouver seek on arrival, it’s the Pacific Ocean.

For neophytes, that initial encounter often proves underwhelming.

They can be excused for asking what time the surf comes up.

The rhythm of the world’s largest body of water is decidedly more muted around the city’s shoreline than farther afield on the wave-thumped west coast of Vancouver Island.

However, once expectations have been rejigged to match reality, there’s a magical world to discover during an outing along the inland sea.

Here are three easily reached spots to dip a finger in the brine.

One salty lick will confirm the truth that here lies a vast marine frontier whose borders define the shorelines of four continents.

Come along and sample one for yourself, each of which displays a unique identity of its own.

The strands that ring Point Grey on the city’s West Side offer a variety of approaches, from the easy-to-reach Arcadia Beach on Vancouver’s outer harbour adjacent Spanish Banks to the slippery slopes of Trail 7, which winds downhill from a viewpoint on Southwest Marine Drive.

If the tides permit, you could spend a day traversing the five kilometres of shoreline between the two.

Of the five main access points, Trail 4, which begins on the north side of the UBC Museum of Anthropology, offers the most variety, both ecological and cultural.

Traditional welcoming figures carved by Musqueam artist Susan Point and ceremonial poles hewn by master Haida artist Bill Reid, among others, define the approach.

Behind the larger of two longhouses, a sturdily built trail leads down from the lip of a sandstone cliff almost 400 steps to the beach below.

As Trail 4 descends, its staircases pass through Pacific Spirit Regional Park’s lush forest of ferns, alders, and evergreens.

Where the path ushers out onto Wreck Beach, massive driftwood logs and root balls lie mired in the sand.

Barring a major storm, it’s unlikely the jumble will drift away soon.

This suits beach regulars, who shelter behind them just fine.

In warm weather, this is one of the more discreet clothing-optional sections of the park, the flip side of the carnival atmosphere found farther west at the foot of Trail 6.

Scan the surroundings from this serene vantage point.

To the east, most of the city’s skyline lies hidden from view, while to the west lies horizon on ocean.

Islands in the Strait of Georgia lie shrouded in haze; to the north, the Tantalus Range’s wall of peaks at the head of Howe Sound rise white and formidable.

Closer at hand, across the mouth of Burrard Inlet, trails on three of Cypress Provincial Park’s peaks herald where skiers and snowboarders play.

A rocky breakwater demarcates the beach into sand on one side and cobble-sized gravel on the other.

Unlike city beaches elsewhere, only here do you begin to sense a vastness of oceanic proportions.

Depending on the level of the tide, either scramble west below the weathered cliff’s smooth face or pick your way east toward two concrete Second World War artillery towers emblazoned with a crazy patchwork of spray-painted images, such as a tawny mutant whose face gleams out at the foot of Trail 3.

Find a log to perch on and let the lapping of the waves go to work on your mind.

For detailed information, contact Metro Vancouver Park’s West Area office, 604-224-5739604-224-5739, or visit and do a search for Pacific Spirit Park.

To view a selection of images of Pacific Spirit Park’s Wreck Beach between Trails 4 and 3, visit

Of all the waterfront approaches in Stanley Park, Third Beach offers the most serenity.

Perhaps it’s the calming influence of poet Pauline Johnson, credited with naming Lost Lagoon, whose memorial sits tucked away in a shaded grotto above the beach.

From this crescent-shaped strand tucked midway between Second Beach and Siwash Rock, look west toward the snowcapped Vancouver Island mountain ranges.

Like blinders, the forested slopes of the peninsula surrounding the beach shield most else from view, including English Bay and the North Shore.

Even though passersby on the seawall overlook the beach, seclusion can be found by tucking into one of the upturned corners of the beach’s smile.

The copper-hued colour of the sand is unique to Third Beach, the product of relentless wave action on a sandstone reef offshore.

Crimson of a different tone is displayed above the beach, where one of the largest red alders in Canada anchors the grassy hillside just west of a concession stand.

To further enhance a visit, follow the pathway that leads uphill through a formidable grove of western red cedar, western hemlock, and broadleaf maple. Rainforest and oceanfront combine here in a classic West Coast environment.

For a detailed map of Stanley Park, visit

Finally, Portside at Crab Park offers one of the best views of the working harbour from one of Vancouver’s tiniest beaches.

This site was once called Luckylucky, or Grove of Beautiful Trees, by local First Nations paddlers.

A sand-and-pebble beach adjoins a viewing pier.

Seek out several sculpture installations placed in the pocket park that has been landscaped with grace.

Don’t miss the brace of Chinese lions mounted on either side of the overpass that leads into the park from the north foot of Main Street. The duo perfectly frames the Sisters, Vancouver’s iconic twin peaks, more commonly known today as the Lions.

There’s more to entertain the eye here than it seems possible to squeeze into one encounter with the Pacific.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Exploring Australia’s Fraser Island

November 8, 2010


Fraser Island’s attractions include the shipwreck of the luxury passenger liner S.S. Maheno.

ACCESS: Fraser Island lies 300 kilometres north of Brisbane on Queensland’s east coast. For details on day trips and extended island tours, visit,, and Daily ferry service to Fraser Island destinations, including Kingfisher Bay, departs from River Heads, Hervey Bay, and Wanggoolba Bay. For details, visit


Queensland’s Fraser Island is one big sand pile.

In fact, the 123-kilometre/74-mile-long strand ranks as the biggest sand island in the world.

For those familiar with B.C. sand islands, such as Savary near Powell River—surely one of Canada’s, if not the world’s, smallest examples—no visit to Australia’s east coast would be complete without a journey to Fraser.

Quick access by ferry from the mainland makes for a relaxed day trip.

For those with enough time, the Fraser Island Great Walk leads the length of the platypus-shaped island, with rudimentary campgrounds strung along the way.

Much of the easy-to-moderate route traverses hard-packed beaches.

Budget a week.

Australians are big on long-distance walks, hardly surprising for a nation steeped in the Aboriginal tradition of walkabouts.

Tens of thousands of backpackers each year journey to Fraser to experience the natural wonders of the island’s ecosystem; therefore, reservations for walkers’ camps are a must.

Water is in short supply, and trekkers must be fully self-sufficient.

One galling aspect of Fraser Island is that although surrounded by warm Pacific Ocean waters at the southern extremity of the Great Barrier Reef, swimming in the sea is emphatically discouraged.

Tiger sharks lurk in the swells that pummel the shoreline.

To stay out of reach of the sharks, the dark-hued manta rays float as far forward in the swells as possible.

Profiles of their white-sided predator kin can be glimpsed offshore in the walls of breaking surf.

Kite-shaped rays are easily spotted from elevated perches, such as the seat of a tour bus.  That’s where we met guide Murray Wessling.

A resident of Fraser Island for 35 years, the former fisheries officer became a tour guide five years ago “because I wanted to make people happy rather than hassle them”.

Wessling had a lifetime of harrowing experiences to relate, from surviving an adder bite to shark and jellyfish encounters.

At one stop, he dipped his hand in the surf and drew out a tiny blue-bottle jellyfish, or Portuguese man-of-war.

“These blokes are often confused with jellies,” he drawled. “Blue bottles are actually a colony of four kinds of highly modified marine invertebrates joined together as one. Despite their minute size, their stings cause painful welts that last for days. Be careful where you step. Even when dead, they’ll still burn you.”

Wessling said he’d been stung so often that his skin was immune to the venom. To demonstrate, he held the “bluey” long enough for it to inflame his palm, then he deadpanned: “Despite what you may have heard, urinating on a sting actually makes it worse, not better.”

Wessling’s firsthand knowledge, combined with cautions regarding potential dangers—such as snakes that look like fallen leaves and spring tides capable of overwhelming SUVs—would prove invaluable to first-time visitors who might otherwise be tempted to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle and head off to Fraser Island on a camping trip, the favoured approach of many Australians.

Aside from endless beaches and a plentiful food supply, Wessling cited equally compelling reasons why the indigenous Butchulla people named the island K’gari’, or paradise.

As he drove uphill and inland from the beach along rutted sand tracks scoured by recent rains, a startling azure expanse rose into view.

Perched among bleached columns of eucalyptus trees—Fraser is the only place on Earth where towering rain forest grows in sand—Lake McKenzie is the most impressive and easiest to reach of more than a hundred such dune lakes that freckle the island’s subtropical environment.

To further heighten the effect, white silica sand collars the foreshore. You can shine up silver or gold jewellery with silica—instant lustre renewal.

Rub some on your skin to achieve a tingly effect.

Fraser’s wonderland extends beyond the lake to sacred streambed birthing places at Central Station, a former logging camp that now serves as a peaceful sanctuary for both trekkers and day-trippers keen to learn more about the island interplay between nature and humans.

Water filtered through sand is some of the cleanest in the world, and here it provided an antiseptic medium in which the island’s indigenous women once delivered children.

The last group of resident natives left Fraser for the mainland a century ago.

Treaty negotiations have recently seen ownership of a portion of the island returned to the Butchulla.

Newly installed bronze totems along Central Station’s boardwalk trail, sculpted by aboriginal artists, silently witness the reclamation.

Ferries constantly shuttle across the Great Sandy Strait between the Queensland coast and Kingfisher Bay, the major port of call for Fraser Island tours as well as one of two island locations offering overnight accommodation.

Passengers are welcome on the bridge to chat with the captain during the one-hour crossing.

Crew members are prime sources of insider information on geographical details and the best chances of sighting marine wildlife such as humpback whales, considerable numbers of which frequent the strait from July to November.

Seems like all creatures great and small gravitate to Fraser Island.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie