Vancouver Island

Today is our final day on Vancouver Island.  We finish packing up in the morning and then make a couple stops on our way back to the Victoria Airport. 

First up, we back track a bit by going up the island to swing by Englishman River Falls Provincial Park.   The waterfall is pretty, although we really need to be there later in the day when it would be in the sun.  We walk along the short loop before departing.

We then stop in the town of Chemainus.  The town is interesting because many of the buildings in town have large murals painted on them that relate to the local history.  We take advantage of this along with getting ourselves some lunch. 

We are a little ahead of schedule, but decide we’d rather have extra time at the airport than stress about being late.  We make it to Victoria International without any trouble and actually have way more time than we need.  We can’t even check in for the flight because no one from the airline is there yet.  Once we finally do, we go through security with the added pleasure of removing our shoes, only because we are flying to the US.  I ask the security person who else has to take their shoes off, and he replies, “just you guys”.   We were expecting to do customs here, but instead wait until we land in Seattle for our connecting flight.  As a surprise we have to do a full security screening in Seattle.  Our country will now be know for the welcome from the customs agents “Welcome to the United States.  Please remove your shoes.”  In any event, all the logistics are uneventful and we land back home safe and sound after a fun vacation.

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Nanaimo goes by the moniker of “The Harbour City” which as you might have figured out means (1) it’s in Canada and thus harbor is spelled wrong and (2) it’s on the water.  We took advantage of these facts and decided to take the twenty minute ferry ride over to Gabriola Island.

To quote Bart Simpson, I always like trying out new material on the road.  Sometimes I do that without even realizing it which is what happened while we were parked waiting for the ferry. When you are waiting in your car for the ferry, there are  several rows of cars parked close together until the ferry arrives and unloads the cars on it before the next set of cars drives on.  I didn’t realize that L had rolled down the window of the car.  While we are waiting, I’m reading through the brochure about the ferry and I notice that next to our time for the ferry are the written the letters “DC” (and “DC” is not written next to most of the times).  Wondering what this means, I scan the page to find out that DC stands for Dangerous Cargo.  I say to L that we’re in luck that this ferry can handle dangerous cargo, and then point at her and say “That’s you!”.  At this time the guy in the truck next to us is laughing hysterically.  L’ asks him what he thinks is so funny to which he replies (roughly) “I think all women are dangerous cargo…and  you can ask my three ex-wives!”.  It was very funny and we chatted with the man we would learn is Dave the Alpaca Farmer.   Aside from correcting my parking while on the ferry, he told us that he calls his wife “Whiteout” because “she’s always correcting me”.   While we didn’t visit the Alpaca Farm, we can’t help but recommend him as funny, hard working fellow.

After departing the ferry, we stopped for lunch.  This was a dud in the sense that it took forever.  I’m a patient guy, but over an hour waiting for a couple of sandwiches is absurd.  They gave us a few dollar gift card for our trouble which we used to get a  cookie.  Still, L’ was grouchy by the time the food came and neither of us were thrilled to have lost so much time waiting for what should have been a quick lunch.  We won’t be returning to Raspberry Jazz Café.

Finally fed, we hit the sites of the island.  First up were the Malaspina Galleries, interesting sandstone formations along the coast.  This turns out to be a quick stop.  The island is small, so we take the short ride to the Silva Bay Shipyard School, which has an open house today.  It’s a place to go if you want to learn the dying art of wooden boat building.  The man working there tells us about the school and we admire the craftsmanship of the boat that is on display.  From here we go wander Drumbeg Park, for some walking along the coast.  It’s scenic and not too cold.

There are still a few hours of daylight left and L’ is itching to go kayaking.  After finally tracking down Jim of Jim’s Kayaks, L’’s got a rental kayak and was off for some exploring of the very calm waters between the various islands.  I opt to chill at the adjacent bar so I can read a magazine, sit in the sun, and enjoy my cold beer until L’ returns an hour later.

From here, we stop for pizza before the ferry back to Nanaimo.  The pizza at Woodfire Pizza and Pasta is good an we are pleased that the ferry is mostly empty and we don’t have to sit in a huge line like we saw others doing when we first arrived on the island.   We’re then back at the B&B in time to pack up and prepare for our final day and flight tomorrow.

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On yesterday’s drive to Strathcona Park, we saw signs for Elk Falls not far out of town from Campbell River.  With some quick internet research, we concluded this was worth a stop and did just that on our way out of town today.   The trail for Elk Falls was a short loop and took us by another waterfall as well on the same river.

While the drive to Nanaimo (where the nai rhymes with rye) is not that long, we break it up with a distraction to the Horne Lakes Caves Provincial Park (and I assume that, like in Sooke, the “e” is silent).  There are three caves in the park, although the most interesting one is only open to guided tours (mainly so that the guides can ensure that none of the cave formations are damaged or vandalized by visitors).  We have some time before our guided tour so we take a quick peak in the cave with the waterfall and plan on returning after our guided tour. 

The tour is interesting and unlike many caves, this one has no manmade conveniences like ramps, railings, or lighting.  All light is from headlamps atop of our helmets.  As a whole, there are some neat cave formations, but nothing that I thought were really spectacular.  Other caves require far less scrambling and yield far neater formations.  Still, it’s an enjoyable trek and the guide is informative (and L got to introduce herself by her school nickname of Trouble).   After our guided tour, we enter the other cave on our own and end up trailing a guided tour of that one.  We turn around at the waterfall (which is really just a trickle) and return to the car to make it to Nanaimo. 

We arrive at the B&B in Nanaimo without any trouble and clean up before heading out to to an average quality dinner at Acme in downtown.

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We used Campbell River as our headquarters for a visit to nearby Strathcona Provincial Park.  This is a big park and we’ll only scratch the surface, concentrating in the Buttle Lake area.  Our activities for the day became even less planned when we found out that the park does not have a staffed visitor center.  Normally, our plan is to chat up the folks in the visitor center for tips.  There’s really only a couple main roads so we just stopped at places that looked interesting.  This ended up working surprisingly well.  It turns out that much of the hiking in the park falls into one of two categories – (1) reasonable one to three hour hike or (2) crazy death march up to some insane elevation.  That made the decisions easier.

Our four stops in the park were Lupin Falls, Lower Myra Falls, Upper Myra Falls, and Karst Creek Day Area.  Each of these were neat to see.  In driving to the parking area for Upper Myra Falls, we stopped at some picnic tables and read about the nearby mine that we would be driving by.  It was interesting to see all the mining equipment since I can’t think of another time I was near a large scale active mining operation.   Had we gotten there just a little earlier, we could have gone in for a tour. 

After all of our hiking and sightseeing, we stopped at the Strathcona Lodge for a casual dinner with a great view of the mountains.  From there we returned to the hotel to pack up since tomorrow we leave for Nanaimo.

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We checked out of our hotel in Tofino and made one last stop in Pacific Rim National Park.  We did the Rainforest hike which is not too long, but goes through large groves of trees.  Things are much greener up here than back at home because of the higher annual rainfall.   As with all of our activities thus far, everything is very scenic.

Just like the drive out to Tofino, we break up our cross island drive with a couple stops along the way.  Before lunch we take a quick stop at Sproat Lake, mainly to use the facilities and find a  lunch place.  After lunch we visit Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park, a grove of 300-800 year old trees, mainly Douglas firs.  Most of the trees are around 300 years old because there was a fire about that long ago.  While not as enormous as the giant redwoods in California, this was still a worthwhile stop.    We do the short walking trail and then return to the car.

Our next stop is Little Qualicum Falls which is another relatively short walk to a pretty waterfall.  Vancouver Island is certainly full of these.  From here we drive the rest of the way to our accommodations in Campbell River.  For dinner we try out an Italian Restaurant, which despite mostly glowing reviews, was not particularly good.  The quantity was tremendous and we still were full.

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For our second day in Tofino, we reserved a “water taxi” (also known as a “boat”) to take us to nearby Meares Island to hike to the peak of Lone Cone (the mountain on the island).  We made our reservation the night before for an 8:30am departure.  After picking up lunches at a store in town, we arrived at the dock right on time.  Unfortunately, no one was there.  The sign on the door gave a phone number to call, which we did only to be sent straight to voicemail.   We went back into town to kill some time only to return and still no one was there.  Finally, someone arrived and we were on our way close to forty five minutes late.  Apparently, “dispatch” and the boat driver didn’t get get their communication kinks out.  

Finally arriving at Lone Cone, we begin the hike.  All starts out well, but once it turns into the forest (which was expected), my fun meter quickly runs to empty.  Unlike trails we are used to doing back home, this one involved a steep trail with lots of scrambling over water, rocks, and tree roots.  After about an hour (as the mosquitos pick up, too), I’ve really had enough and we turn back, call the water taxi, and return to Tofino.   L’ is disappointed we didn’t make it to the top while I’m relieved I can put on dry socks.

After lunch, we visit the Pacific Rim National Preserve.   We hit two short walks both of which are enjoyable.  First up is Radar Hill, so named because it used to have a radar installation atop it.  The radar has long since been dismantled, but there is a nice vista from the top.

From Radar Hill we drive a short ways up the road to visit Schooner Cove.  It’s a nice walk to a pretty cove on the water.  We wander the beech, taking in the views and relaxing in the great outdoors.  It’s a pretty white sand beach, and except for the cool temperature (probably about 70), it could be the Caribbean or Hawaii.  From here, we hike back to the car and return to the hotel for our final evening in Tofino.  Tomorrow we depart for Campbell River.

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We’re now on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in the small, yet very popular, town of Tofino (not Torino as the spell checker likes). It’s in a scenic part of the island and we take advantage of that.

Our first stop is the visitor center for the Pacific Rim National Park.  The folks there are helpful in giving us some tips.  They are always chatty folk and being science geeks we ask them about banana slugs and why they, despite being bright yellow, don’t get easily spotted and eaten by predators.  The ranger replies, in all seriousness, “Have you ever licked a banana slug?”  Let me think…no.  I ask the required follow up question of “Does anybody answer yes to that question?”   To paraphrase King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Canada…tis a silly place. 

We’re loaded up with maps and spend the rest of the day along the Wild Pacific Trail in Uclulet (pronounces you-clue-let).  It’s a relatively easy trail with good views of the coast, mountains, and waterways.  We make an attempt to explore the mountain we can see, but can’t find the trailhead and the roads aren’t so great so we turn around. 


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Despite being on an island, the drive to our next stop on the west coast is lengthy and we plan on a couple stops to break up the driving. 

On our way out of town from Victoria, we stop at Goldstream Park, home of Niagara Falls.  No, not that one.  The waterfall is so named because it is the same height as the famous one in Eastern Canada and New York.  This one is not nearly the width of the “real” one.  In fact, it’s pretty small, but still pretty as it goes into a mostly dry riverbed and is only a short walk from the car.  We take in the view and photos and then head on our merry way.

For another break in the drive, we stop at the Kinsol Trestle, which we only recently read about the other day over lunch in Victoria.  This just opened to the public days earlier.  It’s is a large footbridge that connects a biking and hiking trail and is over 140 feet high.  It’s very neat to see and the wood is so fresh it still smells like Home Depot when we are there.  We wander a bit, take some pictures, and then head for lunch (a surprisingly good winery restaurant that we thought was a GPS wild goose chase until we actually got there). 

After lunch, we drive the rest of the way to Tofino. Luckily the drive was the only rain for the remainder of the trip. We arrived in time to check in to the hotel and go for dinner at SoBo which we enjoyed.  We have two full days of adventure in Tofino coming up.


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Our last full day in Victoria was action packed.  After breakfast, we walked to Craigdarroch Castle.  It’s not really a castle in the sense that Knights and Damsels in Distress lived there.  Rather, it’s a 25,000 sq. ft. triumph of a coal baron.  The Dunsmuirs made a fortune mining coal from up on the island.  A non-profit has been restoring and furnishing the house to look as it would have when the Dunsmuirs lived there (Mr. D. and friends only lived there 18 years and the house has been used as a school and infirmary among other things).  It was built as the world was transitioning from gas lighting to electric lighting so some of the fixtures support both.  The house had a lot of amenities like that, such as indoor plumbing.

We walked back towards the hotel and car and stopped for lunch in a nice food court in the huge atrium of a building.  The food at AJ’s Organic Café was good and Canadian portion size is definitely smaller than what we get in the States.  More important than the food, was we happened to see a local paper about the recent opening of the Kinsol Tressle and decided to add this as a stopping point on the way to Tofino tomorrow.

Now that we’re full, we head out of Victoria to the nearby Butchart Gardens.  It’s a world famous place as far as manicured gardens go.  They are very pretty and I’m pleased that I’m not having an allergy attack and the emergency antihistamines in my pocket are not required.  We explore the grounds, take lots of photos, and I enjoy a delicious soft serve ice cream (not as good as Carvel, but pretty close).

After we finished touring the whole place, we ponder returning for a free evening show, but don’t end up making it.  Instead we have a good pizza dinner at Pizzeria Prima Strada which is good wood fired pizza and a nice change from the fancier dinners of the last couple nights.  We walk to the water after eating and watch some crazy people “parachuting” for lack of a better term.  It’s windy enough that they just open their parachutes and hope the wind lifts them up, like a kite.  A few of them are successful.  Once it gets dark and cools off further, we stop for a drink and live music and then prepare for our departure tomorrow.

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After our second night in Victoria, we explored the area outside of town.    We headed west and a little south to the Sooke (the “e” is silent) area of Vancouver Island.  Our first stop was a visitor center to get some information on the local parks and how to get there.   After one wrong turn, we finally made it to the East Sooke Regional Park.  This park has a wide variety of hikes and walks.  You can take a fast walk straight to a beach or wander around the coast line and the forest.  We did  the latter with the walk along the coast.  This included a stop at Beechy Head, an odd marker about the boundary between the US and Canada.  The views of the coast and the Olympic Mountains in Washington State were all very scenic.



Following the park, we made our way back to Victoria, but stopped along the way at the Fisgard National Historic Site.   It contains the oldest lighthouse on the west coast of Canada.  There is also a military installation (Fort Rodd Hill) that had some interesting stuff to see like the disappearing gun and barracks.

We finally returned to Victoria.  For dinner we went to a local brewpub across the drawbridge.  The food at Spinackers wasn’t great and the beer not too cold, but the view from nearby of the harbor is very good.  After dinner, we returned to the hotel and rested up for our final day in Victoria.



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