Exploring Canada’s unexpected

Exploring Canada’s unexpected wine valley

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 150 km-long lake, wildlife including big horn sheep, cougars and rattlesnakes, rainfall of less than 30mm a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards you can imagine.

Exploring Canada’s unexpected

Welcome to the Okanagan Valley in southern British Columbia, Canada’s most western province. My wife and I have been driving through the Rocky Mountains for several days enjoying the spectacular mountain scenery and lush pine forests. Now we are in what is called Canada’s only desert.


Vernon is at the northern end of the valley and is the oldest centre. As we approach the city on Highway 97A we see an amazing visitor attraction called the Log Barn. This is operated by a Mennonite family and it is a combined restaurant, store, tourist attraction and great place to stop.

We try their old-fashioned sausage, butter crust pies and Gouda cheese, watch the goats climb the special goat walk and check out the many other attractions from an Indian tepee to a model dinosaur.

While Vernon has less than 100,000 residents, it is surprisingly busy so it is a pleasure to escape and head further south into the heart of the valley.


Vineyards start appearing on the hilly slopes soon afterwards and there is the occasional sign to a winery but it’s not until we reach Kelowna that it becomes obvious this is serious wine country. The city is home to outstanding golf courses, scenic trails, and plenty of beach and water-based fun but visitors flock here for wine tourism.

Grape cultivation and wine consumption date back 6000 years so this wine country is a toddler in comparison. It has only been in the last 30 years that wine production has been taken seriously here. Now there are over 100 wineries and many have sales and tasting outlets open to the public.

Naturally, we want to sample a few of the local offerings. Great Ranch Winery with its tasting room overlooking green vineyards and the lake is our first stop. We follow this up at the Dirty Laundry Winery where visitors pass under a clothesline filled with underwear when entering the sales area and restaurant.

Peachland and south

The vineyards are often side by side with orchards of cherries, apples, peaches and plums. After stopping at a roadside stall we eat cherries all afternoon while driving and sightseeing.

We make a stop at Peachland to walk in a lakeside park and enjoy Lake Okanagan’s longest uninterrupted beach. Inland in the Zip Zone Adventure Park there are six ziplines that cross Deep Creek at breathtaking heights of up to 100 metres. Further on, we see the Kettle Valley Railway at Summerland, and an old paddle-steamer at Penticton.


This is known as the wine capital of Canada because it has the highest concentration of wineries and vineyards in the country. Where there are no vines, there are fruit trees on lush rolling hills.

Oliver has its own small, picturesque lake for boating, fishing or just for cooling off and, in winter, nearby Mt Baldy ski resort provides a quick getaway.

We visit a couple more wineries here then find accommodation at Osoyoos, the southern town just north of the USA border.

Osoyoos and the Waterfront Beach Resort

The Waterfront Beach Resort has lake frontage and the views from our huge balcony are stunning. This is a perfect place to stop in the valley and is as good as any resort we have seen in Canada. We lap up the space, have a great meal in the restaurant and sleep happily.

After a lazy start it’s off to some of the local attractions. The spectacular Desert Cultural Centre has a museum and interesting walk with First Nations guides. The Desert Centre is a not for profit boardwalk that meanders through the desert and provides an opportunity to learn about this ecosystem.

The Model Railway, with more than 40 computer controlled trains running through European style towns and landscape, is quite remarkable and well worth the stop. Osoyoos has been great and so too is cute Keremeos, a vibrant agricultural community located in the beautiful Similkameen Valley.

Highway 3 bounces along the USA border with Manning Park the highlight as it winds through the Cascade Mountains. The park has wet coastal rain forests, jagged snow-capped peaks, alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, a chain of small lakes, and broad rivers in the valley floors.

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

Vancouver is now calling us on and we spend two days in the city. A highlight is a visit to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. There has been a suspension bridge here since 1889 and the present challenging bridge stretches high above the Capilano River.

The bridge is always an attraction but there are several other excellent things to do. Some are in the ‘challenging’ category but we also see, touch and learn about the wonder of the temperate rainforest with its 1000-year-old trees.

One of our favourite experiences is walking the Cliffwalk. The cantilevered walkway clings to the granite cliff high above Capilano Canyon. My wife feels exhilaration while I discover fear but we both are delighted we have taken the challenge.

If you go

Several airlines have direct London to Vancouver flights which take about 9.5 hours. There are no non-stop flights between South Africa and Vancouver but one and two-stop flights are available.

If you are travelling on a South African passport, you need a temporary resident visa to enter Canada as a tourist.