Remember the cartoon movie about the rainforest, circa ‘92?
20 years on, and Fern Gully still came to mind every time I stepped foot in the rainforest. I was completely in awe of how remarkably magical it felt to wonder if this was what it was like to be an ant, staring up at these big trees. North of Vancouver, surrounding the Capilano River, I found my own magical version of Fern Gully, aptly named the Capilano Regional Park. The Capilano Suspension Bridge was one of the attractions in Vancouver I was most excited to see. I’d heard about it years ago, before I’d even left Canada, from friends who traveled to and lived in the area. For years I’d always intended on visiting.
Again, we made no plans
We’d finished our impromptu westward jaunt over to Vancouver Island, and returned to our home base in Surrey for a few days before heading up north towards Whistler. We’d hardly started our next leg before taking a short detour following the signs from the highway.
Parking cost a $5 flat rate at the Capilano Bridge. Thom and I each took a bottle of water with us, both decked out in our jandals and merino thermal tops and I was armed with my camera. As we set out from the parking lot, we turned right and headed up a hill. Thom was in the lead and I hadn’t orientated myself as to where exactly we were heading.
I noticed signs for Grouse Mountain (another hike on my to-do list in Vancouver) and the Salmon Hatchery as we power walked up a hill. Luckily we turned off to the park on the left, as I don’t think we were prepared for Grouse Mountain at that time.
Descending down a rather steep gravel path, the part of me that wheezes no matter how much exercise I do, dreaded having to walk back up that hill later. I still didn’t know where exactly we were going, but we were enjoying the shaded canopy and intense shades of green within the dense forest.
Discovering the Capilano Hatchery
The trail led us to the Capilano River, which we followed along to several look out viewpoints and bridges. Eventually we made it to the hatchery. I had no idea what it was or why it was there, but I was about to find out.
The Capilano Hatchery is open to the public and free of charge. It was full of tonnes of various information around the place.
Had we not visited the Capilano hatchery, I wouldn’t have learned so much about the variety and differences between species of salmon. Who knew? I knew it was delicious. I didn’t know that the males and females had different shaped mouths or coloured bodies. The chart below was just one of many that educated me. Once a teacher always a geek?
Next to the hatchery, is a dam that blocks the salmon from going up the river and a bit further up, part of the river is re-directed through the hatchery. I took the opportunity to experiment with the manual setting on my dSLR. I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m having plenty of fun mucking around and ending up with shots like this.The re-directed stream flows past a series of glass windows and you can watch the salmon can swim upstream when they return to spawn. I am still not completely certain as to why they have to swim upstream to spawn. I am sure I probably did read it, but that detail escaped the sieve that is my memory.
Thom led us around the hatchery, explaining different things to me. I loved the tank windows and the fact that you could watch the massive schools of salmon.
I felt like I got a behind the scenes sneak peak at the lives of the salmon. The population was being restored and protected, as biologists give nature a hand by stripping the eggs from the female and mixing in male sperm. The fertilised eggs are placed in incubation trays where carefully controlled fresh water continuously flows over the eggs in each tray. After 35 days, the eggs develop “eyes” but are still encased within their sacs. 70 days after fertilisation the eggs hatch to become swimming alevins with their yolk sacs still attached. There were signs posted throughout the hatchery with all sorts of tidbits and factoids about their lifecycle.
From what I gathered, the salmon continue their way up the hatchery as they grow, swimming laps grouped by their age. As they get bigger, they move into deeper water, until they are released back into the Capilano to make their back to the Pacific. The Capilano hatchery has a netted roof to protect these little swimmers from any hungry birds above.
After we finished wandering around the hatchery for what seemed like ages, looking at all the fish possible, we carried on to explore the rest of Capilano Regional Park and take in all of its beauty. And there was no shortage of beauty.
Thom had picked up a park map from the information kiosk, which depicted the network of trails throughout the park. A series of paths and bridges criss-crossed the Capilano River (although none of them were suspension bridges).
At each fork in the road, we’d decide to explore a little bit further. Surrounded with countless trees and greenery that provide shade from the hot sun, it was the perfect spot to be.
We ventured to a viewpoint that overlooked the Capilano Gorge and in the distance, hid the monstrosity that was the Cleveland Dam. A sheer force of tamed water, powerful and misting all over us from afar. Trees were growing out of the rockface and moss ran rampant in the damp climate.
If I wasn’t looking at the sky, I would have been convinced it was raining.
Strolling away from the gorge we continued further afield, uphill to the top of the Cleveland Dam.
From the top of the spillway I could see its force as it pummelled its way down the concrete slope onto the rocks below. Thom discussed the possibilities of sliding down on a body board, but he was alone in that desire. The shallow water and rocks awaiting the landing at the bottom just a little too unappealing and uninviting for me.
The Capilano Reservoir is home to Vancouver’s supply of drinking water, and the reason that the dam was constructed in the first place back in the 1950′s. It’s hard to believe a body of water can be as serene and calm on one side and voilent and relentless on the other!
Strolling through the rainforest, I encountered some of the most magical trees. It amazed me how they contort themselves and continue to grow in their surroundings. I took a picture of this one because I thought its perfect curve looked so inviting for me to sit in… but it was damn near impossible to reach and I just wasn’t up for that effort.
We had crossed the Capilano River so many times, we’d planned to come out on the other side of the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park according to our trusty map I was glad that Thom had picked up.
And come out on the backside of the park, we did. Except that plan was flawed, as there was no access to the suspension bridge park. It was fenced and gated, and the only way to get in was to back track against all of our steps. We asked a few people along the trail, who confirmed the suspicions of our bad news.
By now it was hot, and we’d been walking for 3 three hours. Thom wanted to jump the fence, but let’s face it. I’m a goody two shoes and/or too uncoordinated to pull that off. So it was backtracking. Thom was none too impressed, but we didn’t have much choice. But with a Fern Gully rainforest view like this, I couldn’t be grumpy.
Life’s too short to be anything but happy.
We returned to our Ford Explorer, hot and bothered in the heat of the 4pm mid-afternoon sun. I came upon the front entrance to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, and a little piece of my heart sank. It costs $32 (+tax) to enter the park. At this point we wouldn’t even have long to spend in this small enclosed park, as we were still only an hour from our original startpoint and had a long ahead of us to Whistler.
Do we drop $70 for the two of us to walk across a bridge? Thom decided he’d stay in the car if I wanted to go. Even though it was originally on my list, I’d learned to roll with the punches and change my plans. I’d just had such a fantastic afternoon getting lost and seeing parts of the Capilano River that most tourist don’t. I didn’t feel the need to succumb to what felt like a giant ‘tourist trap’.
I’d save my money and my memories.
I’ve been the one that gets on and off the tour bus, sees THE main attraction and hops back on the bus, and that’s been cool. But this time it felt liberating to be able to take the time and discover something different, something beyond the bridge that interested me and gave me a little more insight on the place and its history and purpose.