August 2011

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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