Thursday, June 04, 2009

Vancouver Island Trip - May 2009

On May 25, Sean and I set off to Vancouver Island again - this time our destination was Tofino. I'd never been there before and it had been a long time since Sean had been there. We'd found a cool looking campground on the internet, so made our booking and headed out on the 6:20 ferry from Langdale. By 10:05 we were leaving the Nanaimo ferry and once we were past suburbia, the farmland of the Central Island greeted us. As we neared Port Alberni, I could see the mountains, still covered in snow. We've had a cool spring, but I'd still forgotten how amazing the mountains are. About 10 km north of Port Alberni is Sproat Lake - we stopped at the picnic area there and took the time to wander down the path to see the petroglyphs:

The lake itself is gorgeous:

After our little break, we continued on. The clouds were moving in, but the rain held off for a while. The Kennedy River runs alongside Highway 4:
At a couple of points the highway is very narrow and windy, with a sheer rock face on one side and water (Kennedy Lake) on the other. Even in the rain it was an impressive sight.

We arrived in Tofino in rain and after a brief wander, cocooned in our little camper. It was very cozy and we slept as rain pattered on our roof, but by the next morning the clouds had parted enough for us to take a walk on the beach:

The tide was out, so we were able to explore the tidal pools. In one we saw a sculpin, commongly called a "bullhead":

On the beach we found a starfish lying on the sand, waiting for the tide to come back in:

Here is Sean, posing on the beach stairs to the campground:

One of the fantastic things about this campground is the gorgous flower beds. Here is one of the rhodos in bloom:

The sites themselves are really nice and private:

Sean built a small campfire to keep us warm as we prepared for the day:

Alongside the highway for about 8 km south of Tofino is a shared pedestrian/bike path. We first decided to explore the Wickaninnish Inn, where we planned to have dinner that evening - here's what it looks like from Chesterman Beach:

We thought this sign was very funny:

After going south as far as the Visitor Centre, we turned around and cycled back into Tofino itself and wandered around the small seaside town before heading to Breakers Cafe for lunch:

We explored a couple of little bookstores (yeah, what a surprise) then rode over to Tonquin Park and walked down to the beach there:

It was hard to tear ourselves away, but at last we did, and followed the path back to Crystal Cove Campground. Just across the highway is a cool little retail complex called Outside Break, with some very funky stores and services, including:

Wildside Grill

Beaches Grocery

and Chocolate Tofino (my favourite sign)

Once back at our little site, we cleaned up and went for another wander down to the beach then back through the campground. As well as RV sites, they have cabins for rent:

and a lovely water feature:

By 5:45 we were ready for our dinner at the Wickaninnish Inn. We left enough time to walk there and see the beach again before settling in to eat. The restaurant decor is very simple, allowing the view to speak for itself:

Our dinner was superb and by 9:30 we were ready to walk "home", via the beach, over which the sun was setting:

The next day we went first to south Chesterman Beach and then to Cox Bay. At both places, Sean scanned for any sight of whales:

Cox Bay seems to be the surfers' second choice after Long Beach. They were busy that day:

We'd hoped to be able to ride all the way into Pacific Rim Park, but the highway is too narrow. We were thrilled to find that the far end of Cox Bay is inside the park, so we made it after all:

I found a cool flower growing on a piece of driftwood:

Wednesday evening campfire shot:

On Thursday morning we left the campground bright and early, wanting to fit as much in on our return trip while also getting to Nanaimo in time for our 5pm ferry. First up was a stop to see the view from Radar hill, where a radar station was set up during the cold war:

Next was Long Beach. We had it all to ourselves - it was so peaceful and just a glorious sight:

Wave patterns on Long Beach

An empty parking lot at Long Beach at this time of year is likely quite rare - our truck/camper was the only vehicle there:

Sean looking for whales at Long Beach:

Yes, this has been a running theme of our trip and at last, Sean's patience with the binoculars paid off - first he saw a couple of whales, then he handed me the binoculars to me and I saw some too :)

Outside Port Alberni we stopped at Cathedral Grove, a stand of very old trees, including one that is estimated to be 800 years old:

Sean took a picture of me with the big tree:

Here is a shot of the cathedral effect:

On our way to Tofino, we'd passed through Coombs where I suddenly noticed goats on a roof! I'm not kidding you. Sean had been saving that as a surprise and promised we'd stop on the way back. So we did - here's a pic of the Mama and kid:

And here is Sean's action shot of leaping kid:

After lunch, ice cream, a stop at a pottery shop and many pics of the goats, we left Coombs and continued on to the provincial park at Englishman River Falls. There we did the short loop to see the falls. We started at the upper falls:

Sean at the Falls

then wound our way through the forest path where Sean had fun with a leaning tree

At last we reached the lower falls:

Just beyond the bridge over the falls we saw this cool gnarly moss-covered tree:

From there we went back to the truck and started on our last leg, into Nanaimo. Despite the ferry leaving 10 minutes late, we still made our connection with the 7:25 ferry to Langdale and arrived home just after 8:30 to a joyous reception from the cats :) We had a fantastic time and hope to get back over there again some time.

There are more pics than this - if you're interested, just email me and I'll send you the link for the whole album.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Map of where we went

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North Island Adventure - Days 3 & 4

It's now Wednesday morning and we're about 2/3 of the way to the ferry terminal in Comox. The mountain scenery was just as gorgeous coming this way, but we're now down in the valley area again.

The road today seems so smooth and wide. Why, you ask? Because the road to San Josef Bay is neither.

We set out yesterday morning just past 7:30, stopped for gas in Port Hardy then found the Holberg Road.

Sean was on it years ago and it appears not much has changed! After a few kilometres of pavement, it changed to dirt road. That wasn't too bad as it was wide and pretty well maintained. WE still proceeded slowly as mist had moved in over night and we didn't know if we'd meet any logging trucks.

From time to time the sun burned through the mist, creating a prime photo op:

Soon, though, we found the road considerably narrower and much more bumpy. I think Sean's favourite part was the sign reading "Be Prepared for the Unexpected". Naturally he had to stop and take a photo:

Though Holberg is only 60 km from Port Hardy, it took us a full hour to get there. We enjoyed a few minutes of pavement, then it was back onto the logging roads. Even more narrow than before. Fortunately there are lots of turnouts, a few of which we employed when we met oncoming traffic. Here are a couple of pics from the road:

The spray painted plywood sign says "Cape Scott" in big letters - we figure the logging company was tired of tourists getting lost and stumbling onto the logging areas instead

At last we bumped down an even narrower route and into the parking area, only to discover there really is no room for trucks to park. Not only that, we had no room to turn around as the lot was full. So, Sean had to back the truck (with camper) up the 300 or so metres to the intersection and turn around, then back down again so he could park along the side of the lane (it really isn't a road) facing towards Port Hardy. Fortunately he was able to squeeze into the bushes enough so other traffic could get by us. And I climbed out the driver's side. Below is a pic of the "road" in question:

After assembling the day pack, we walked to the trail head and began the fun part of the day. Ok, so Sean had fun driving his big red truck on a logging road for an hour and a half, but for me it was merely a means to an end.

The trail through the old growth forest is almost impossible to describe. Words really don't do its majesty justice. Any tension I'd had in the truck (cough, cough) drained away as we walked along, enjoying the dappled sunlight and silence.

About half way along, we came to the site of a settlement attempted there early in the 20th century. All that remain are a few rusted relics of equipment and some rotting planks. There's a cool plaque that gives the history with photos.

While I can see the appeal of the area, the total isolation doomed the settlers to failure.

We continued on through the old-growth rainforest - as you can see, I LOVED the trees:

Another 15 minutes or so saw us reach the bay area. The San Josef River empties into it - it was low tide as we passed over the river:

Sean told me to prepare myself as we approached the bay itself, but really, nothing is like emerging from primeval forest onto an unspoiled bay on the western tip of Vancouver Island, complete with at least a mile or two of sandy beach. I tried to capture it as best I could with my trusty little camera:

The tide was starting to come in, so after taking a timed picture of us with the bay in the background:

we walked over towards the second beach and the rock formations, sea caves and grottos:

Trees cling from the side of these magnificent rock formations:

It was like something out of Lord of the Rings:

Sean also checked for any "hippie skinny dippers":

We explored for a while, examined some tidal pools and even more grottos:

then headed back to the trail area where we enjoyed a picnic perched on a large piece of driftwood.

Beyond the mouth of the bay we could see the perpetual bank of fog that surrounds the island's northern section:

Difficult as it was to tear ourselves away from the beauty before us, we had little choice. Though Sean did have to stop and pose with this example of toilet seat art, situated right near the privy:

The hike back was just as nice and soon we were back at the parking lot prepare for more shake, rattle and roll on the return to Port Hardy.

There was much more traffic this time and we had to pull far right several times to let others by. At least a few drivers realized they had best slow down as they didn't know what might be waiting for them round one of the many corners. We were particularly UNimpressed by one particular driver in front of us who, when meeting a camper coming in the opposite direction, stopped in the MIDDLE of the road to let the poor driver squeeze by while we pulled over as far as we could.

Still, the scenery on the return trip was a little more spectacular as the cloud had completely lifted:

To take my mind off the rather dodgy driving conditions (I trusted Sean, just not the oncoming traffic) I decided to lose myself in the Zen of knitting.

That helped for a while and after Sean unsuccessfully tried to find a campground he'd gone to on his previous trip (we figured it hadn't proven profitable and abandoned), we stopped at the famous "shoe tree".

At some point, hikers who'd done the much longer north island trail would stop on the way back to civilization and hang their boots on the tree. There are now several hundred pairs of assorted footware decorating the trunk, some arranged quite artistically - the hobnailed boots high up on the trunk being one obvious example:

Note the pumps in the shot above

After snapping some pics of this very cool roadside attraction, we got back in the truck and prepared for another quarter of an hour of boneshaking travel. At last we reached the pavement, marvelling at its smoothness *g*.

From there it was clear sailing back to Port Hardy, where we filled the gas tank again, then made our way to the campground. There I repaired to the showers to wash away the layer of dust and grime from the hours on the logging road while Sean built a roaring fire. We relaxed with drinks and a bag of Miss Vickie's chips, enjoying the relative peace and quiet of the campground:

Dinner was consumed by the fire as well and I insisted on smores for dessert :) By 9:30 we had burned through all our wood, so after a stroll round the campground to stretch out, we retired for the night. And an episode of Danger Man/Secret Agent on the portable DVD player.

This morning we were up by 7:00 and out of the campground by just past 8:30, though Sean insisted on taking a pic of me with the Sitka Spruce first:

after which I took one last pic of Shady the dog:

It's now 11:43 and we've pulled out of the Shell gas station, where we stocked up on gas, chips, chocolate and coffee. It's not too much further to Comox and the ferry terminal. The next crossing to Powell River is at 3:15 pm, so we hope we're in good time to make it, otherwise we won't be home till quite late tonight. As it is, we're looking at the 6:40 out of Saltery Bay which will put us home around 8:30 or so.


It's now 6:41 and we're on the Queen of Tsawassen, bound for Earl's Cove. Yay! Our ferry connections all went smoothly.

We reached the Little River terminal outside Comox around 12:30. Generally speaking, there's not a whole lot to recommend a ferry terminal in BC other than the view. Little River, however, has a beach! Sean and I wandered down there for a few minutes to check it out:

then went back to the camper for lunch and a little nap. I also managed to do some reading on one of my mss.

Finally, just past 3:00, they loaded the ship and we left pretty much on time. Waiting for the ferry with a camper is far more pleasant than being in a car in a hot parking lot for 2.5 hours.

The crossing was smooth and we spent time reading. The only annnoyance was the super duper air conditioning. I've experienced it on other ferries, but this was the coldest ever. I had a fleece on and Sean's fleece over my legs.

By the time we reached Saltery Bay at 5:20, we were quite hungry and not a little concerned about what we'd do for dinner. BC Ferries food isn't exactly stellar. Just before the ferry terminal, Sean noticed a little roadside building advertising salmon burgers. That definitely sounded good, so we paid our fare, parked the camper and walked back up to investigate.

The burgers were definitely worth the little jaunt up the hill - we enjoyed them back in the camper, then moved outside to wait as it's quite warm here right now. Knowing we had at least a half hour before the ferry would arrive, I hauled out one of our camping chairs and set it up in the shady spot behind the camper. Sean thought this was very funny and decided he had to take a photo of me relaxing on the tarmac:

So now we're on our way home, though it's almost another hour of driving once we're off the ferry. Still, we're in familiar territory.

The view this evening from the bow is pretty spectacular, but as I've taken over 500 photos already, I figure I should be a little circumspect. (Which meant, I only took a couple of shots - below is the best one):

I didn't bring our laptop, so they're all still on the camera - just downloading may take quite a while! It's likely quite a number will be discarded as many are two or three shots of the same thing - I usually choose the best and ditch the rest. Digital does make that easy.


The final leg of our journey along the Sunshine Coast Highway took place while the sun was setting. At Davis Bay I turned back and managed this shot:

We're now at home and, after having moved the essentials in from the camper, have repaired to the deck with a wee drink to view the photos. It was a fantastic vacation - certainly unforgettable, especially the highlight - San Josef Bay.

Hope you enjoyed this latest edition of the Windshield Chroncles :)

If you are a real glutton for punishment *g*, you can see even more photos in my Picasaweb album.