Festival of Lights, VanDusen Botanical Garden

Location: 5251 Oak Street at West 37th Ave.

Dates: December 7, 2012 through January 1, 2013. 4:30 to 9 p.m. every night.

Cost: Admission to the gardens (Adult: $14.25, Child: $7.75) (included in the Vancouver Trolley Tour price)

“This is the granddaddy of all Christmas light-shows in Vancouver,” our Trolley tour guide Sparkle tells us. “You have an hour to enjoy the wonders of the park,” and with that, myself and several Aussie tourists all head through the gates.

When the doors to the garden open it’s positively magical. “It’s like something out of a Tim Burton movie,” the man behind me blurts out. That Tim Burton movie is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I think to myself; I feel like I’m in the scene where Johnny Depp opens the tiny door to the garden for the first time. I keep expecting an oompa lumpa to pop out from behind one of the trees.

Moments earlier a lady was telling the group that on weekends you can’t move on the pathways and parking is impossible; the best time to visit is on weekdays. We also lucked out with the weather. It poured rain until the moment we walked into the park… and like magic, the rain stopped so we could enjoy the lights and take photos unhindered by umbrellas.

Beyond the endless sea of well designed coloured lights (the park is 55 acres in size, the light show makes up a fraction of that), there’s a gingerbread forest, a choreographed light show, Santa’s village, music, miniature trains, elves, and plenty of secret paths and walkways. There is a Scottish stone shelter and mound of knotty tree roots that make up an interesting tunnel. These were my favourites to photograph and explore.

If I could make any recommendation it would be: wear rubber boots. There are enough mysterious puddles and mucky holes to surprise and wreck the hardiest of shoes.

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