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Whistler Sea to Sky drive and fly

Many of us have a secret Porsche obsession.

For some it might be to experience the racing adrenaline of Porsche GT Track Day on the legendary Nurburgring. For others, it could be restoring a classic Porsche and the exhilaration of winning first place at the Porsche Parade Concours. Or perhaps an impulse to acquire a vintage collection of air-cooled 911’s to be concealed in your private airport hangar. My secret obsession is traveling the world in my Porsche and I recently discovered a new way to indulge it.

Including both a seaplane flight above British Columbia’s rugged coastal mountain range and a drive along the scenic Whistler Sea to Sky Highway, the Porsche Club of America – Canada West Region (PCA-CWR) Harbour Air Vancouver to Whistler Drive and Fly tour is an experience that any traveller would enjoy but is a particular pleasure for Porsche lovers like me. 

Related story: The great Porsche escape from Sun Peaks

Whistler Sea to sky drive and fly
Porsches on display at Green Lake, Whistler. | Photo: Edward Quan

Offered in partnership with Harbour Air Seaplanes based in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour, this trip provides members with an unparalleled aerial perspective of the Sea to Sky corridor which includes views of the Squamish Chief, one of the largest granite monoliths in North America. From the sky, travellers pass over volcanic mountains, glacier fed lakes, and snow-capped Whistler mountain. All this, and I haven’t even begun to tell you about the drive.

My co-driver for this exclusive Porsche club adventure, which began on a Sunday morning last September, was my brother Gordon. As Gordon was flying to meet me in Whistler, he started his morning enjoying a freshly brewed latte inside Harbour Air’s comfy lounge. His flight departure was well after I left as the drive time of 1-3/4 hours from Vancouver to Whistler is more than an hour longer than the flight time of forty minutes.

Outside, you could hear the roar of the iconic Porsche flat six-cylinder engines come alive as nine drivers formed a line to begin the journey towards the Lions Gate Bridge and onward to Whistler. 

Whistler Sea to Sky Drive Fly
Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park viewed on board Harbour Air. Photo: Edward Quan

As we pulled out of the underground parking lot, the sun started to break out from the low cloud cover and out came my sunglasses. But I was overly optimistic; my hopes for a bright day were dashed as we traveled along West Vancouver’s Upper Levels Highway where we were met with light fog, drizzle, and darkness. Eventually, I conceded defeat and the sunnies made their way back into the glove box.

The joy of driving the Whistler Sea to Sky Highway is not only in the rock face curves at the water’s edge where the smell of the pacific tinges the air but also the various elevation changes which makes driving a Porsche so engaging. As I was positioned near the rear of the pack, the light showers did nothing to dampen my driver’s enthusiasm.

As we cruised past Squamish at the north end of Howe Sound, the weather and traffic cleared up and we continued into the valley forest towards the town of Whistler. Our rendezvous point was Harbour Air Seaplane Terminal on Green Lake behind Nicklaus North Golf course

Whistler Sea to Sky Drive Fly
Harbour Air’s de Havilland Canada single-engine Otter aircraft, about the length of a city bus. | Photo: Edward Quan

Once we had parked in our reserved spots in front of the chalet style club house, we ventured onto the Harbour Air dock to wait for the other half of our group.

Green Lake is glacier fed so it has a pale turquoise colour which contrasts with the lush Douglas-fir trees on the surrounding mountains. The dock area was calm and relaxing, tucked away from the golfers and the main Whistler village.

Soon, from the south, we heard Harbour Air’s de Havilland Canada single-engine Otter aircraft approach. With its short take-off and landing capabilities, the plane was at the dock in minutes.

Under warm and sunny blue skies, we enjoyed our hearty box lunches on the dock prepared by the Nicklaus North Golf Table Nineteen restaurant. We each also received a generous swag bag from Harbour Air which was an added bonus. After lunch there was a photo shoot with the white and blue Otter aircraft, which is about the length of a city bus, and four Porsche convertibles parked on the edge of the dock to commemorate our adventure. 

It was now my opportunity to experience the flight portion of the Porsche Club Harbour Air Vancouver to Whistler Sea to Sky drive and fly journey. Our senior pilot and tour leader Darren Batstone welcomed us onboard just as the co-drivers pulled out of the parking lot for their return trip to Vancouver.

After moving at a leisurely pace out into the centre of Green lake, we were soon climbing to our cruising altitude of 7500 feet above Whistler village. 

Whistler Sea to Sky drive fly
Porsche Boxster 981 is the perfect ride on the Whistler Sea to Sky Drive and Fly. | Photo: Edward Quan

Senior Pilot Batstone took us on a southern bearing over Whistler Valley towards the Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Visible from the Sea to Sky Highway outside of Whistler, this black jagged volcanic rock peak was just spectacular from our seats as it was up close and at eye level.

As we traveled further into the valley, we began to feel small as the coastal mountain range, towering 8500 feet above sea level, began to rise above us on both sides of the aircraft.

Shortly, all eyes were focused on Garibaldi Lake, a rich turquoise blue alpine lake that stretches for 5 miles and covers an area more than twice the size of Stanley Park. The view was totally mesmerizing. Situated at nearly 5000 feet, the lake can only be viewed after a day hike into the park or from the air.

Immensely beautiful ocean scenery greeted us as we entered Howe Sound above the Sea to Sky coastline. Just below us was the Squamish Chief, a 2300-foot granite rock face. From the air, we were provided with coastal island views more majestic than even a climber standing at the top of the Chief could ever experience.

During our flight, the interior cabin was unusually quiet; no one was talking. As I was seated in the last row, I could hear the sound of the small dual metal cabin fans spinning at the front of the aircraft. All were absorbed with the breathtaking scenery that surrounded us on our journey and no one felt the need to break the silence.

Soon the Otter’s left wing started to dip as we came around West Vancouver’s Lighthouse Park and into English Bay to begin our descent over Stanley Park.

As we disembarked from the Otter in Coal Harbour, I was almost sad that the day was over. You could feel that no one wanted the Porsche club Harbour Air Vancouver to Whistler Sea-to-Sky Drive and Fly adventure to end. And you had the sense that perhaps this was the beginning of another secret obsession among my fellow Porsche club members. 

The above story was originally published by Timberline, Porsche Club of America – Canada West Region print magazine in Winter 2021.

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