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San Francisco has its trolley cars, Venice its gondolas. And Vancouver has flying Beavers and Otters. Welcome to the world of unique transportation, Vancouver.
Beavers are the small, 1950s-era propeller-powered float planes that buzz in and out the Strait of Georgia dozens of times each day. With a history of flying hunters deep into the British Columbia wilderness and landing on pristine lakes throughout the country, the six-seat Beaver is considered by many to be Canada's plane.
The short wingspans, peppy engines and pontoons make these diehard planes perfect for landing in small places, dropping passengers anywhere from the Victoria Harbour to a tiny body of water deep in the Canadian wilderness for backcountry fishing, hunting or camping.
Because of this versatility, a cottage industry has popped up in Vancouver with these planes as the stars. Whether a 45-minute flightseeing trip that circles the skyline and the surrounding, mountainous coastal islands or a quick hop over to the capital city of Victoria for some land-based sightseeing, dinner and maybe a nice stay at the historic Empress Hotel, float planes are getting tourists and locals off the ground to amazing places in an original and speedy manner.
Single-engine Beavers and the slightly larger Otters are the common mode of transport for the various flightseeing tours. Outfits such as Harbour Air Seaplanes and West Coast Air, Whistler Air offer a bevy of selections ranging from the quick viewing tour of the city to ones that will land on mountain lakes for a picnic on the shore or a nearby vineyard for wine tasting.
Other options include heading up to Whistler for a half-day whale watching adventure and checking out some of the most beautiful natural wonders of the B.C. wilderness, such as Chatterbox Falls.
But these planes are more than just sightseeing vessels. They are an ideal mode of transport for getting around the Vancouver area. The idea is catching on that these seaplanes will become as synonymous with Vancouver as trolleys and gondolas are with San Francisco and Venice.
It's not a stretch to believe this is possible. Not only are the float planes a truly fun way to get around British Columbia, they are pretty darn convenient, too. Though just 87 kilometres (54 miles) away, it can take more than a half day of driving and ferry riding to get to popular Vancouver Island. A float plane can shorten the trip to just 35 minutes plus a few minutes to check in prior to boarding (which is as easy as showing ID at a counter and walking down to the plane when it's ready).
Twin-engine Otter float planes that seat 18 make these trips more frequently than the single-engine versions. Trips between Vancouver and Victoria run almost hourly and for about $145 one way. It's a fantastic way to get some great flightseeing in while saving plenty of time to enjoy the sights of Victoria and still make it back to Vancouver for dinner.
Just think how much more interesting it will be to tell friends about a water-based flying experience during a trip to Vancouver, rather than a few hours spent getting a rental car around all that water -- via roadways and ferries -- between the island and the city.