HOUSEBOATING ON THE SHUSWAP
As I stand on the deck of the "Prairie Princess", a Waterways company luxury houseboat docked in Sicamous, on this mid April day, Mara Lake is a swath of deep blue waters stippled with sunlight. We are about to cast off on a three day cruise along one of British Columbia's most scenic getaways in the heart of the Shuswap.
Shuswap Lake, like an untidily scrawled "H" on our map, borders the town of Salmon Arm in the south, and touches small resort communities such as Sicamous, Wild Rose Bay, Blind Bay and Chase in the course of its meandering shoreline.
My travelling companions and I are greeted on board by our hosts: skipper Darren, and first mate, pilot and navigator, Noah. A "Welcome Aboard" hamper stuffed with goodies sits on the kitchen counter and alongside this, like a still-life painting, is a bowl spilling over with Okanagan's bounty-apples, peaches and strawberries. Our fridge, well stocked with provisions from DeMille's Market in Salmon Arm, includes Okanagan's liquid ambrosia-wines from local vintners.
Our home away from home is impressive. The Genesis 60 houseboat (not the largest of Waterways fleet) has three cabins, two bathrooms, a kitchen that boasts a full range of modern appliances, and a bright lounge flanked by large picture-book windows. Above the fireplace is an entertainment centre: CD/DVD player and satellite flat screen TV. On the upper deck, we discover an eight person hot tub, wet bar, TV and music consul and, pièce de résistance, a curly-tubed water slide. Yaay!
First up this afternoon is a tour of the prestigious (and challenging) Hyde Mountain golf course, one of many golfing greens in the Shuswap area. Lunch on the deck of their Loggers Restaurant commands spectacular views of the Lake, but the sun has disappeared and clouds gathering over the distant mountains look ominous.
Back on the boat we dock briefly at Sicamous where Bahama John a gregarious six-foot-eight giant who owns a Southern-and-Bahamian fusion style restaurant in town, arrives on board with our first night's dinner: spicy Bahamian beef ribs, jerk chicken and coconut-flavoured brown rice.
The rest of the afternoon is spent leisurely cruising north. We listen to Noah strumming his guitar, sip wine, nibble snacks and gaze at the passing scene. Salmon Arm Lake reveals its secrets: cottages half hidden among the evergreens, craggy cliffs rearing against scudding clouds, sheltered coves and narrow inlets. Later in the summer these waters will swarm with canoeists, sports fishermen, water-skiers and windsurfers; bikers and hikers will test the winding forest trails. For now the only activity is an osprey guarding its nest on top of a wooden piling and an eagle lazily riding the thermals.
We tie-up at Hungry Cove to sip after-dinner wine and chat around a beach campfire. In mid-July the Cove will echo to the sounds of rock music from moored houseboats and boozy beach parties in full swing. But tonight we are the only ones here. The waning light turns the sky to mauve, a couple of loons call mournfully to one another, and the soft wash of waves against the hull of the boat draws the day to a close.
But no one wants to turn in. Noah stacks white-hot stones in a cairn at the centre of a rigged up tarpaulin tent; a splash of water -and voila! A steamy sauna! Then…shrieks of exhilaration as my companions dive into the surprisingly tepid lake waters to cool off.
We wake up the next morning to fog and drizzle and putter over to Salmon Arm dockside where Blue Canoe Bakery owners, Al and Sandy Boucher deliver us a bagged lunch. Only fresh local ingredients make up their crisp salads and their nutty brown-bread cheese and ham sandwiches. Their pièce de résistance? Brownies covered in a rich chocolate melt-in-your mouth icing.
The Okanagan is renowned for its wineries and the Shuswap area boasts seven of these. Doug MacMillan of MJ Shuswap Wine Tours drives us to three family-run estate wineries. Their wine listings wax lyrical: Sunnybrae Vineyard's "2011 Siegerrebe" is a "passionate dance to a composition of citrus, lychee and apricot notes." Ovino Winery's "2012 Entice" lives up to its name as a seductive "medium sweet after-dinner wine". My favourite: Recline Ridge's "Make Me Blush" -a Rosé that, according to their blurb, can also be "enjoyed naked". Hmmm…
As a farewell meal we are invited to dine at "Table 24" in Salmon Arm, an upscale restaurant where my braised lamb shank in a Merlot and cinnamon sauce is fit for royalty. Who could ask for anything more?
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IF YOU GO:
Waterways Houseboats offer a range of houseboats that, depending on their size, can accommodate from 10 to 30 guests. See their fleet at www.waterwayhouseboats.com/ and rates at www.waterwayhouseboats.com/plan-your-holiday/rates-at-a-glance/ Self drive (after a mandatory two-hour training session) or hire a captain.
Two other houseboat companies that operate in the area are: Twin Anchors and Bluewater.
Blue Canoe Bakery (delivers to houseboats) www.bluecanoebakery.com/
Table 24: www.table24.ca/
Barley Station Brew Pub: www.barleystation.com/
Shuswap BBQ and Catering Company (delivers to houseboats) www.shuswapbbq.com/
Bahama John's Southern and Bahamian fusion steak, ribs, jerk chicken and seafood 101 Martin Street, Sicamous, Ph: 250-836-3400 (delivers to houseboats)
Stores and shops:
DeMille's Farm Market (try their famous sweet corn) www.demillesfarmmarket.com/
Gorts Gouda: (An artesian cheese producer) www.gortsgoudacheese.bc.ca/
Hyde Mountain Golf Course has tricky tees with names like "Calm before the Storm" and "Double Trouble". www.hydemountain.com/index.php
Biking and hiking activities are popular during the summer. See www.ShuswapTourism.ca
PHOTOS: by Margaret Deefholts unless otherwise indicated.
1. Our floating home away from home - the "Prairie Princess"
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