San Francisco has its trolley cars, Venice has 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 planes perfect for landing in small places, dropping passengers anywhere from Victoria’s Inner Harbour for a business meeting, to a tiny lake deep in the Canadian wilderness for backcountry fishing, hunting or camping.
Because of this versatility, a booming industry has popped up in Vancouver with these planes as the stars. Whether a 30-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 Fairmont 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 options ranging from the quick viewing tour of the city, through to day trips that include landing on mountain lakes for a picnic, or a wine tasting at a nearby vineyard. Other options include heading up to the Sunshine Coast for a kayaking adventure, whale-watching in Victoria, or snorkelling with seals in Nanaimo!
But these planes are more than just for sightseeing. They are an ideal mode of transport for getting around British Columbia. The idea is catching on that these seaplanes will become as synonymous with Vancouver as trolleys and gondolas are with San Francisco and Venice. And it's not a stretch to believe this is possible. Not only are the float planes a truly fun way to get around the province, they are pretty darn convenient, too.
Though just 87 kilometres (54 miles) away, it can take a good half-day of driving and ferry-riding to get to Victoria on Vancouver Island. A float plane can shorten the trip to just 35 minutes plus about 25 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). The 18-seater twin-engine Otter float planes 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.