In search of Canada's wild west

It's said that a monster called Ogopogo lives in Lake Okanagan. Dom Joly heads to the stunning valley in hope of a sighting

I don't know about you but I always associate British Columbia with rain. Lots and lots and lots of rain. Don't get me wrong; that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's nothing I love more than a moody Pacific Coast day spent driving through mossy old forests. But it's not exactly a summer destination is it?

Then I stumbled upon the wonderful Okanagan Valley. Residents proudly call it the Canadian California and, from the moment I landed, I could see what they were on about. The Okanagan Valley stretches for about 100km, with Lake Okanagan stretching up the middle. The Okanagan is a bit of a geographical oddity in that it is a desert region; as such the weather in the summer is quite spectacular. Vancouver, just a 50-minute flight away in a twin-prop, might be cloudy and raining, but in the Okanagan, the sun is always shining.

You fly into Kelowna, a very relaxed lakeside town that reminded me of the place where Mindy lived in Mork and Mindy: it's full of lots of healthy-looking people driving around in open-top 4x4s waving at each other.

Almost everyone is here for summer fun: the lakeside is crammed with options for boat rentals and cruises. The scenery meanwhile is staggering: the valley soars up around the lake. As if this wasn't enough, the Okanagan has become a major centre for wine in the last 20 years. The valley used to be a major fruit-growing area but many locals have realised that there is far more money in grapes. Wineries are everywhere, and almost all have lovely little restaurants attached so that you can fill up after some tasting.

I visited Summerhill Pyramid, an organic, hippy-ish winery just up the hill from Kelowna. The place has a fabulous view of the lake, and the bonus of a huge pyramid under which all the wines are stored as the owner believes that it has magical powers … Whatever, the food and wine were good. I sat on the terrace and tried to keep my eyes trained on the waters below me.

Why was I looking down there? Well, you see, I wasn't really here for the watersports. Or the wine. I was here monster hunting. I was on the lookout for Ogopogo, a lake monster that is the North American equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. Sightings of Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan go back to the 19th century. When the first ferries were started in the early 20th century, the British Columbian government paid for armed guards to "defend the passengers against the Ogopogo".

While writing my new book I'd been chasing down the "big six" monsters round the world, and I assumed that there would be a huge cottage industry built up around the Ogopogo in the same way that Loch Ness milks the Nessie story for everything it can.

Curiously, there wasn't too much about Ogopogo save for the odd stuffed toy at the airport and a rather dodgy-looking statue of what looks like a Chinese dragon on the waterfront. Then again, nobody really goes to Loch Ness with the intention of swimming, and Nessie therefore works as an icon for the tourist industry. With Lake Okanagan, I suppose the fact that there might be a monster in the lake is a little less attractive to potential swimmers and boaters.

Whether or not you believe in stories of Ogopogo, it seems generally harmless, so don't let it put you off a visit. Who knows? You might even get some footage of the beast on your camera – and use it to pay for the holiday.

For the best view of the valley, you should head off up to the Myra Canyon. There used to be a railway line through here that still stands as a major feat of early Canadian architecture. Huge wooden trestles were built to allow the line to traverse the steep canyon. In 2003 a massive forest fire devastated the whole mountainside and almost all the trestles were lost. Due to a lot of hard work by motivated local groups, they have all now been restored to their original glory. The railway line is open for both bike riding and walking – and it rewards you with quite staggering views of the Okanagan Valley.

If you cross the lake on the bridge at Kelowna you get to the town of West Bank. From here you can drive south along the lake to a lovely little place called Peachland. As the name suggests, this is the site of several large lakeside peach orchards. A fabulous café on the lakefront is the place to watch healthy Canadians jog and cycle past you in revoltingly large numbers.

I always tend to judge a destination by this. I am no jogger, but the number of them to be seen in a place is usually a good indication of an enviable lifestyle.

I drove onwards to the southernmost tip of the lake, where I reached the town of Penticton which again had a fabulous beach and a huge old paddle steamer sitting there dreaming of the days when it used to steam around the lake. No Ogopogo, though. Perhaps it prefers the off-season.

 

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps: In Search of the World's Most Hideous Beasts by Dom Joly (Simon & Schuster, £12.99) is out now

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment