When putting together the plan and itinerary for our 2013 Canada trip, one of the things that were on top of the priority list right from the start was whale watching. Through the Internet, we found several companies offering whale-watching tours, with several types of vessels. We chose for Wild Whales Vancouver, a company that operates three jet boats.
I prefer this to the zodiacs for my photography. You can move around more freely and it just seemed more comfortable to me.
The other thing I liked is that because of the unpredictability of wildlife (they’re not hanging around waiting for tourists) tours could take from 3-7 hours. It is obviously much more fun if you can find the whales rather quickly, but it meant that in case this proved difficult, they would go (literally) the extra mile. I’ve known it differently!
Whale watching Vancouver Island… from Granville Island
This particular tip was starting from Granville Island, worth a visit in itself. Granville Island is really a village, on an island obviously, in the middle of world city Vancouver. Besides the boats you can rent for a scenic ride around English bay or the Granville Island whale watching trips departing there, many other things make this place attractive.
You should visit the public market, with all its fresh local and exotic fruits and vegetables, the fish and the meat stalls, or you could browse the art stores. There are a variety of arts and crafts to be admired and purchased. When you get thirsty, get a beer from the Granville Island Brewing Company. On the waterfront, you’re spoiled for choice for all kinds of restaurants.
So if you're wondering: “Is Granville Island worth visiting?”, my answer is a clear “Yes!”.
Our experience whale watching in Vancouver
But first we headed to the office of our boat tour company, checked in and went to board the vessel. I had seen killer whales before, but never in the wild, so I was very excited about the trip.
We sailed off in the direction of Vancouver Island. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about whales; she was a biologist and clearly knew what she was talking about. Most of the killer whales roaming these seas are “regulars” and many of them have been given a kind of “serial number” as they all can be uniquely identified. So they are also documented with their number and distinct characteristics.
It appeared to be a good time of year for whale watching as the salmon were starting to head up the Fraser River to spawn, up to 800 kilometers upstream, so for the whales, there was plenty of food.
The trips are well organized and the different vessels stay in touch and pass on the most recent position where the whales were seen. We were kept abreast of the information exchange and so the excitement was building up as we came closer to where the killer whales where. Then we sailed into the Strait of Georgia where the whales were supposed to be and by that time everybody was already on the outlook.
And then we saw them! It was just fantastic. What a joy to see these majestic creatures in their element! They are truly magnificent.
At a certain moment, we were really dazzled by one big killer whale coming right from under our boat. I was even too surprised to take a picture. Of course I had brought a good tele-lens, which is already a bit more difficult to shoot sharp images with handheld, but on a rocking boat with a “moving target” this was a real challenge.
Still, after a while I had found how to stand more solidly on deck and could capture some really nice images. Especially the “kid” orca tumbling was a real fun subject.
As much as I enjoy photography – and boy did I have opportunity there – after a while I put away the camera to just enjoy the presence and indeed the company of these huge animals.
I was also pleased to hear that there is an “etiquette” the whale watching tour boats have to respect: don’t get to close (although the whales themselves may chose to get close) and don’t cross the path of the animals. And especially, do not chase them!
I believe these are good rules and I also think that this way the animals can be observed without major intrusion into their lives.
Our Vancouver Island whale watching trip trip lasted around 4 hours and I will never forget it. A super experience animated by a super guide. Later that afternoon, Sonia and I were sitting on a terrace on Granville Island, enjoying a beer, and just replaying the images we had seen in our minds eye.
Where to stay on Granville Island
Granville Island is tiny and your best hotel option there is without a doubt the Granville Island Hotel. It's located a short walk from the beach and just 3 km from the center of Vancouver. WiFi is free throughout the hotel and all rooms are equipped with a flatscreen tv, a minibar, and a coffee machine.
Guests can use the on-site gym or have a drink or a bite at hotel bar and restaurant Dockside.
Want to stay at the Granville Island Hotel? Check here for more reviews, prices and availability.
If you'd rather stay elsewhere in Vancouver, Booking.com has hundreds of options which you can filter based on your preferences.
How to get to Vancouver and Granville Island
If you're traveling from abroad, the easiest is to fly to Vancouver International Airport. From there, you can take the Skytrain into downtown Vancouver or a taxi straight to your hotel or to Granville Island. Getting to Granville Island by public transportation is a bit of a pain and requires multiple switches.
A taxi will be more expensive but might be the better options if you're with a group or have a lot of luggage.
Another option is to rent a car at the airport. I'd only recommend this if you plan on staying in Vancouver for just a day or so, to do the whale watching tour, as you'll need to have a hotel with parking and don't really need the car to get around the city.
If you do want to get a rental car upon arrival or later in your trip, check RentalCars.com as the compare a ton of rental car companies so you can get the best solution for your trip.
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Hans Couwenbergh is a wine and travel loving photographer. Snapping away, he tells you all about the stories behind his photographs. Connect with him on Facebook.