For those unencumbered by acrophobia, there may be no greater thrill than flying. What springs to mind, however, is the dreaded commercial variety, plagued by ever-increasing fares, inevitable delays, and passengers who check their manners at the gate. Most airlines now feel like public transit, with many travellers gunning for an aisle seat so they can be the first one off the plane. We’ve forgotten, in haste, to enjoy the ride.
Located in the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre at Canada Place, Harbour Air is on a decidedly different flight path. The planes are small, the runways are water, and many of the flights are for pleasure—a novel idea for locals and visitors alike. Seaplane tours range from shorter panoramic sweeps of Vancouver to over two hour excursions that can include dining experiences or whale watching. Locals who have hiked to Lake Garibaldi have likely never seen its famous turquoise waters from such spectacular heights.
The Alpine Lakes & Glaciers tour is a refreshing departure from Vancouver Harbour. The small floatplane roars to life, skimming along the water before rising over Railtown’s steel dinosaurs and turning west and then north over the mountains. The plane shakes and dips occasionally, but studied pilots maintain stillness so everyone on board can get their money shot out the nearest window. Views include pools of ice water between craggy rock, steeps and slopes so shrouded in greenery that from far above it appears as texture instead of trees, and, as the plane sweeps around its ridges, neighbouring vistas of Mount Mamquam’s jagged edges.
In warmer months, the tour includes lunch, to be enjoyed at a little-known alpine lake. There, on the rocky shore, sandwich in hand, the lake appears like a natural infinity pool, dropping coolly off into the distance. Taking off from this smaller body of water poses no problem, and suddenly the city of glass is back in view, its waters seemingly clearer, the skyline strangely shinier, and Stanley Park more majestic. The aerial adventure somehow encourages passengers to stay grounded upon return, hearts still flying high.