I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief and anticipation by all you golfers out there: it’s spring, and that means hello golf clubs! Many of you have already found your way to a course. With 17 golf courses in the immediate Kelowna area, there certainly are many fantastic choices covering a wide array of difficulty. The sheer concentration of golf tracks in the Kelowna area means that this city has established itself as a prime Canadian golf destination, and has won the praise of well-known Canadian golfers, including golf personality Bob Weeks. After a visit to our golf courses last summer, he documented his impressions in a blog post, opening with, “I spent most of last week out in Kelowna, which has easily become one of Canada’s best golf destinations. There are 20 courses in the general region ranging from championship layouts with jaw-dropping scenery to some really smart shorter courses.”
At Tourism Kelowna we’ve already received many bookings through www.golfkelowna.com for spring and summer golf trips. GolfKelowna.com is the central reservations system developed by Tourism Kelowna in partnership with local courses, allowing out-of-town golfers to book their tee times, accommodations, and receive tourism information all in one spot. While our local courses do their own local marketing, the concept behind this central reservations service was that people who travel for golf will typically play more than one course, so the aim was to make it easy for them to book their tee times, while also showcasing the many courses in this relatively small hub.
Reports from golf courses are that they are all in very good shape – winter was overall kind. Everyone is open and ready to go, with only one exception. The Bear will be opening later this week – its greens were resting a little longer.
Several notable golf writers have published articles on the amazing golf we have right here in our own backyard. Check out the stories here, and be sure to pass on the word about our gem of a golf destination when you’re speaking with your out-of-town golf buddies. With our convenient air access (including non-stop flights from Toronto, Los Angeles, and of course our neighbours in Alberta and on the Coast), Kelowna’s five intriguing wine trails and fantastic dining and recreation – now is definitely the time they should book their golf vacations to Kelowna… and we know just the place for them to start!
Today’s column will be quite different from my regular tourism subjects. At this time last week I was freshly returned from Myanmar and Thailand, wandering through the produce section of the grocery store in a jetlagged daze, and considering the mangos in a whole different light. Days earlier I had seen them growing on trees in plantations along a canal system outside of Bangkok. I had an odd sense of my city’s own foreignness – of how visitors from other countries might perceive elements of our daily life and surroundings. It left me pondering the ways in which travel leaves imprints on our souls, and of why humans are driven to travel in the first place. Let me back up.
My destination in Myanmar wasn’t one of its cities. It was an archipelago of 800 islands along the south coast of the country in the Andaman Sea. Only five of these islands are inhabited by people. Dense jungle and jungle wildlife abound. Monkeys on the beaches, giant lizards, Burmese Pythons, that sort of thing. The coral reefs were astounding and magnificent. A seafaring tribe called Moken fishes in these waters and has been dubbed “Sea Gypsies”. They approached our vessel on a few occasions in their hollowed-out canoes with unique cross ores; sometimes it was children, other times adults with fresh catch of the day for trade.
During the nine days we sailed these waters, I was completely off the grid. I mean completely. No phones, no wifi, no cell reception, nada. Knowledge of the area was through our captain, who gained it through his person-to-person interactions with locals. To put it in perspective, there are likely more people in the world who have been to Everest than who have come to this archipelago in Myanmar. Even if we had access to the Internet, information on this destination is sparse, at best. We had several discussions about the importance of not imposing our own values or ways of seeing the world on the people who live here, on this undisturbed paradise. We talked about the sensitivity required of those of us who are among the early travelers here, who are entrusted with a glimpse into this unique worldview and culture.
Travelers to Kelowna are also looking for person-to-person interactions with locals, and a sense that they have glimpsed more than a prescribed experience. Online research, GPS technology, apps and data are all just frosting on the periphery of what makes travel special and important in our lives: human connection. Did you know that Kelowna has very high satisfaction ratings from our visitors, year after year? I’ll bet those high satisfaction ratings have less to do with how much information they amassed on Kelowna before their trip, or whether wifi was fast, and more to do with the connections they made with Kelowna residents along the way. That’s the stuff that travel memories are made of.
In this way, travel fulfills a search for connection, a belonging to a community that is greater than the one we live in day-to-day. It’s a belonging to a global community. And when this itch is scratched, we can carve out a place for ourselves in that mosaic. I want to share two very insightful quotes that I’ve come across on this topic. The first is by Pico Iyer, who opens his beautifully written essay on why we travel with the line, “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” The other quote came from the Captain of the boat that we sailed on, who remarked, “The heart is like a parachute – it only works when it’s open.” And that’s just the thing, travel has a power to open the heart by presenting to us places, people, and situations that are new and different for us.
The result? A sense that there is an elemental link in this chain of humanity and that we each have a place in it. Ultimately, a strengthened connection within our own selves. And perhaps a new appreciation for mangos, in my case… and for cherries, for travelers who come here.
This is the time of year when daytime walks become filled once again with the sound of birds’ songs. Maybe their sweet chirping seems so much more pronounced in the spring because of winter’s relative absence of birdsong. It’s a yearning we don’t know that we have until we hear the first coo of a Mourning Dove after months of snow-dampened silence. Spring might be enough to turn us all into birders, even just for a short while, before their song is engulfed by the frenetic pace of summer. If you want to go to where the birds are in Kelowna, here are some hotspots for viewing and hearing these feathered friends.
Rotary Marshes – Tucked on the north end of Tugboat Bay and Waterfront Park, the Rotary Marshes provide a lovely stroll with a symphony of sounds (especially the shrill call of the Red-winged Blackbird), and regular sightings of Osprey, ducks, and even loons.
Maude Roxby Bird Sanctuary – Walk along Abbott Street to Francis and along this road toward the lake, that’s how you’ll get to the Maude Roxby Bird Sanctuary. A wonderful spot for shorebirds and a peaceful setting with a grove of Willows, this spot is a great place to see Swans, Killdeer, and Sandpipers.
Mission Creek Greenway – This tranquil walking path along the meandering Mission Creek has several entrances: Lakeshore Rd (just passed Cook Rd.), Gordon Dr., Benvoulin, KLO Road, and perhaps the most popular: Springfield Rd. just east of Dilworth. All kinds of bird life can be found here, including the odd Owl, if you’re lucky.
Marshes behind the Capital News Centre – Birds of prey, herons, and various ducks are common to see in the marshy area behind the Capital News Centre on Gordon Dr.
Chichester Bird Sanctuary – This is a small site, tucked away off Fitzpatrick Rd. in Rutland, but this excellent website and resource for birding sites in Kelowna has a very neat fact about this location: it has hosted nearly 200 species of birds, the most of any single site within the Kelowna area (thanks to Chris Charlesworth for this information). Incidentally, there are many more sites identified on that website for avid bird fans.
We are lucky to have such a wide variety of birds native to the Central Okanagan, and many wonderful parks, trails, and sanctuaries to enjoy their company. As the snow begins to melt in the warmth of midday now that March is here, we get to pause for just a moment, exactly where we stand, and just listen to their lovely song. They are announcing the tentative arrival of spring.
I was speaking with a food writer friend of mine today when she remarked with enthusiasm that Kelowna has really become a 4 season’s destination for wine and food experiences. In my mind, I scrolled through the high level of activity over these first two months of 2014, including Wine & Dine, the Canadian Culinary Championships, Okanagan Spirits’ Gin Olympics, the opening of a brand new restaurant just this week (a new neighbor for the downtown distillery), and a brand new culinary event for Kelowna to take place on March 1: Devour Kelowna. Add to this, the availability of wine tastings at wineries that remain open over the winter months along our 5 Kelowna Wine Trails, and I found myself nodding in agreement with my writer-friend. There really isn’t a season anymore when there simply isn’t anything to do from the perspective of gastronomy. And outdoor enthusiasts will laugh and say, welcome to our 4-season’s playground!
Last weekend, I had front row seats to all the intensity and anticipation of the Canadian Culinary Championships (for the details of Tourism Kelowna’s role, check out our Tourism Kelowna News Centre). It was an incredible 3 days. Kelowna can be very proud that this is the home of this culinary competition – the only stand-alone national chef’s competition this country has, other than made-for-television competitions. I was very interested in the way the competing chefs used resourcefulness to get information on Kelowna’s food suppliers – information that is crucial when you are competing against other top chefs and are working with a budget of $550 to buy ingredients for your small plates to feed 425 people. (And when going over budget docks points from your competition score.)
Granted, some of the teams had a Kelowna connection, and were already familiar with the lay of the land. The Regina team’s sous-chef, Chef James Hanna, worked at RauDZ Regional Table for 7 years, and Calgary’s Chef Duncan Ly also apprenticed with Chef Rod Butters. But it was actually the Saskatoon team that was the first to arrive at RauDZ Regional Table the night the Chefs were presented with their Mystery Wine, to go over the flavor profiles and form ingredient strategy. This story by Joanne Sasvari in the Vancouver Sun deftly describes the mood in the restaurant that night.
The next morning, I was taking Ms. Sasvari and other out-of-town media to some of our food suppliers – places I thought were likely to see activity from the Canadian Culinary Championships teams. Illichmann’s Meats & Delicatessen on Gordon was relatively peaceful when we arrived, with just the steady hum of regular customers placing orders. But the butchers in the back confirmed that they’d already been visited by a team or 2 in the early morning; back-door access. Codfather’s was also a busy place when our small group arrived to speak with Jon Crofts. This sought-after seafood store had already seen 5 teams come through. It was, after all, a white mystery wine, much to the delight of Jon and his team.
Kelowna has a great deal to offer the competing chefs and the Canadian Culinary Championships competition. It was fantastic to see the chefs make their way around Kelowna and seek out our specialty food stores and suppliers. It is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say, between this prestigious chefs’ competition and our fair city.
Read more Ripe with Surprises articles
- National chefs to compete in Kelowna Feb 3
- Wine and Dine comes to Kelowna Jan 20
- A guide for all seasons Jan 6
- Fun Kelowna stocking stuffers Dec 9
- Stuart Park Rink to open very soon Nov 25
- A time for reflection Nov 11
- Corn mazes delight in Kelowna Oct 28
- Harvest fair coming soon Oct 14
- Grapes & grains trail Sep 30
- Kelowna alive with theatre this month Sep 16
- From Kelowna farms to your table Sep 2
- Beating the heat in Kelowna Aug 19
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