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Published: August 25th 2014
We are up very early for the 265 mile journey to Vancouver from Penticton, and in the rush forget to take a picture of some of the vineyards in the area. They are small – not quite French or Italian standard. We pass forests, lakes, parched hills and see hardly any settlements for miles. It’s a boring drive. We take Highway 97C towards Merritt then the 5S to Vancouver City. We are again booked into the YWCA for one night & have a car parking spot for $13 extra – worth it & convenient.
After catching up with a lot of emails etc, we shower and go to Gastown for the evening and end up at Rogue for dinner at the Waterfront – we have a great meal – grilled wild salmon sandwich & their famous burger with yam fries and clam chowder washed down with some local ambers – the Vancouver one was ok the Belgian variation needed some getting used to.
We spend some time enjoying Canada Place at night which looks great all lit up and take some good pictures then it’s off for an early night. Victoria
Up really very early
– 4.45am, to get ready and drive to Tsawassen BC Ferries Terminal for our 2 hour crossing to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. It takes us only ½ hour to get to the Port so we are pretty early – we had allowed for extra time as it’s long Bank Holiday weekend for BC folks as its BC day on the 4th
August. Need not have worried!
At the port we get some Starbucks coffee & snacks for breakfast & are first in line for the ferry. We board at 7.35am and leave by 7.50 – a bit late (seems like nothing runs on time in Canada?) We have a very smooth crossing & are off first and then stop for petrol at a place recorded as cheaper on a free app that Cags found ($1.34 per litre rather than $1.45 in Vancouver).
The drive to Goldstream Provincial Park takes about 1.5 hours. The roads are pretty good. First impressions of Vancouver Island – it seems nicer and more rural (in an English sort of way) than anything we have seen in Canada so far. What’s great is that the Parks here are Bear & Mosquito free campgrounds!!
It does however, get dark at about 9.15pm at the campsite which is in forest that looks semi tropical. The amenities are ok and they have some pit loos nearby & the modern loos and showers up the hill that us lazy people drive to rather than walk to.
After getting the tent up, we go to Victoria 16kms away – an easy enough drive and head for the Visitor Centre. It’s about 24C but feels like 28C! Parking is an issue - circa $2.50 per hour most places – though they have an odd scheme whereby shops give customers a free 1 hour parking voucher (though in fact it’s only $1 off rather than a whole hours value – a nice little scam!) so we find a Provincial Car Park that operates the scheme and head into town for some lunch at John’s Place – much heralded and recommended & it is a gem.
It’s actually a Diner, very retro with great food. It’s pretty full even at 3pm. We try the Chorizo Benny & a Baltimore Crab Cakes Benny but instead of fries you can substitute mixed fruit salad or grilled tomato – unusual but it
worked a treat. The music on a juke box is varied from 50s to 80s. The place has signed pictures of many icons on the walls – Monroe, MLK Jr, Hendrix and many local sports personalities – Ice hockey, Baseball & NFL.
Later we go for a walk around the city. Although Victoria is the provincial Capital of BC it is much smaller than Vancouver and has a small town feel to it which makes it really appealing. The highlights are close enough to walk and enjoy. We see the impressive Parliament or Legislative Building (very English design, this could be in the UK and reminds us of the Victoria Museum in Calcutta, India). Also on the bay is the Empress Hotel – very English/Scottish Castle looking and grand. There are a host of pubs around – mostly Irish for some reason? There are hotels that would not look out of place in any of the seaside resorts in the UK. There are also many Tea rooms (having full English Tea is the done thing here apparently & expensive). Victoria definitely has a very English feel to it and many buildings would not be out of place back home.
The varied architecture makes the city more interesting and many of their newer creations seem more eco conscious and have great design features.
Down by the Waterfront is a place where Seaplane flights can be bought for $100 each for a 20 min trip around the city. We definitely would love to try a Seaplane ride as we have never been on one but decide that we’ll leave this for Nova Scotia, later in our travels, as that might be more interesting.
We make our way to Downtown – Bastion Square is part of the old town and is essentially an arts and crafts market for tourists. Next we visit Chinatown which is the oldest Chinese community area in Canada. It is quite small but kept very well and is quite colourful. Next door is Market Square which is a small version of Covent Garden in London.
Next day its back to Victoria as it’s the big celebrations for British Columbia Day (BC Day!). Which is actually tomorrow (Monday the 4th
Aug’14) but they have decided the big events will take place on Sunday. Parking is free but there are loads of restrictions and many roads around
the centre of downtown are closed.
We head for Beacon Hill Park – a very large park just outside main downtown and behind the BC Museum and all its Totem Poles. From the Park there is a lovely walk around the city along the shore which passes a couple of very small pebble ‘beaches’.
Apparently Rudyard Kipling described the place as ‘Brighton Pavilion with the Himalayas for a backdrop’. We are not sure about the Pavilion (he must have been on the Ganja at the time) but the Legislative Building is pretty English & Regal and if you look across the sea you can just make out the snow covered mountains of Olympic National Park in Washington State, USA, near Seattle. There’s a fast ferry ride from Seattle to Victoria each day.
However, as we walk along the shore some of the scenery and buildings definitely remind us of Brighton. We come upon the Ferry Terminal for cruise ships to the city and find many red London buses used for day trips to downtown.
We later chance upon the Fisherman’s Wharf area and hadn’t quite expected to see what we found. Having walked for a while
in the sun (it’s 23 today & sunny again) we stop for a coffee at a little café opposite. Then we hit the wharf. The left half of it is traditional colourful fishing vessels and a guy’s selling Dungeness Crab and Lobster reasonably cheap but as we have decided to eat out we have no way of saving them from going off in the heat.
Turn to the right however, and a whole new world emerges. First there are 3 rows of houseboats that make up the Floating Village. They are houses on stilts of the like we have never seen anywhere in the world. Clearly belonging to artistic and creative folk, each house is a gem in its own right – 2 were actually for sale & C is on the case (circa £150K we discover)
They are all colourfully done up, have amazing gardens, and some are wackier than others. They all have full plumbing and sanitation, electricity as well, as does each row or street with street lighting and where these streets come together is a large courtyard which is a small market area with shops/businesses – some selling Whale Tours, or hiring out boats,
kayaks etc and the others are eateries; a Mexican seafood place, a Sushi house and 2 Fish and Chip bars. One called Barbs had a queue that went on forever and the other seemed to have no customers and we wondered why.
After some research it became evident that a local cookery paper rated Barbs one of the top 10 Fish & Chip places in the whole of N America (this inc US & Canada). So we queue and give them a try and after a while - hey presto - we get to taste the food and we have to say that the Halibut & Chips were pretty ace – not quite Aussie style but for fish content, the second best after Go Fish on Granville Island in Vancouver.
We make it to the Bay eventually passing many fancy homes and hotels. What is striking is the number of private residences for ‘Senior Citizens’ – fancy Sheltered housing no doubt. They look fantastically well-kept and some have fabulous water garden features which we also noticed in Vancouver as well.
The bay side is packed with people setting out their stalls/deck chairs for the musical performances of
the day on a bandstand constructed in the middle of the bay. The band that played for most of the afternoon are really good, and covered tracks from the 50 to the 90s. Great entertainment!
There was then a break and we enjoyed a local Islands Farm Ice cream from Rogers and one scoop was enough for 2 of us. The portion was enormous and really good - Maple Walnut which has become our favourite in Canada. The ice cream, like many products & businesses are part of the Co-op movement that seems to exist on the Island. When talking to a young girls cashier at a supermarket she was pretty pleased to be ‘Union’. Clearly being unionised is a big thing in the state if not the country.
The BC Museum is at one corner near the Legislative Building & it has a show about the history and journey of the Vikings, together with the story of First Nations people of BC and the wildlife of BC. Its $25 each and we are not sure it’s worth it. There’s an IMAX (it’s a Canadian Invention) next door that has a show about the Journey of the Vikings,
for $12 each as well. So we will have to decide.
We decide to cool off at the Bard and Banker pub – it’s an old style Victorian London pub in Victoria but is run by an Irish company. It lovely and the beer is ace too. We try 2 different but equally nice amber ales. $5.75 each. Not bad. Then it’s off to the Pig BBQ Joint, which has good reviews, for an early dinner. We try Beef brisket (not as good as Kelowna’s Salted Brick)) and Beef Ribs – pretty good – all with a Phillips (local) amber.
It’s pretty late and we decide to go to the toy shop where we have reserved something for Olive for her first Birthday. It’s pretty cool & we hope she will have lots of fun in it. We then go exploring Victoria a bit more and take in the party atmosphere and celebrations. We wander through Market Square, which today has a Flea Market in full swing. Bastion Square is crowded as hell.
We decide to return to the car to pack Olive’s present away. Walking back we decide that we need to bring the car nearer
to downtown as the traffic has got really heavy and we did want to get out before the end or we’ll have trouble getting out of town. We eventually find what we think is an ok place closer to downtown but should have asked around as we find out later that this was a resident permit holder parking street only and got a ticket - $30 for being lazy and careless. Hey ho!
We, eventually, make our way to the main event called The Symphony Splash. They have constructed a great bandstand in the middle of the Bay facing the Legislative Building and it’s where the musicians perform. Other than the shore being packed a host of folks in canoes & kayas are in the water in front of the stand. We discover that some folks paid $1000 a ticket for a spot on the harbour side and we stood literally behind them with as good a view and paid zilch! Obviously some very rich Canadians around!
The Orchestra were pretty damn good and they had a 9 year old lad do some numbers – impressive but not quite Mozart. We think he was Chinese Canadian .
Among the crowd we notice many people here who are Chinese, Japanese and Indian Canadians. Not forgetting the English and Scottish immigrants but also a small number of African Canadians. We do wonder, as the country only accepts very qualified professionals, whether their immigration policy is the modern form of Colonialism? Take the best & skilled resources from poorer countries rather than exporting the work there?
There is supposed to be an ‘International Food Trucks Corner’ which actually is 6 vans stuck in a corner by the Museum & Legislative Building doing Mexican, African, Greek, Wild Salmon and then snacks & pops. Obviously still a developing scene here.
Victoria gets our top marks for the most colourful city – the flower displays and hanging baskets all over downtown and the shops we absolutely fantastic. Definitely the flower city of the world for us by a mile!! Well done guys.
One way in which the Canadians differ from their US cousins is that they are not so Bible pushing Christians even though there is a Catholic Cathedral in the city and many other Christian centres of worships. Some we have never heard of before.
Next day we
are up a bit late for a change – so rejig our plans and go to Victoria again but just to see Craigdarroch Castle, an interesting but dull monstrosity of a building. It was built by a guy called Dunnsmire (a Scottish immigrant) who was a millionaire on the back of coal mines & lumber trade and apparently treated his employees pretty badly. It’s definitely got a touch of Edinburgh in there but externally looks gross.
We go for lunch again to John’s Place as we haven’t tried their famous South-western Meatloaf & eggs special which featured on the ‘Gotta eat here’ Canadian Food Network programme – a sort of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives for Canada. We have a bit of a wait as it’s Monday Bank Holiday and there’s a queue. The star dish is ok but the Baltimore Crab Cakes Benny is a lot better. The staff are awesome, the atmosphere great and the prices pretty reasonable. A must visit in our view.
Victoria definitely has a feel of England and Scotland in good measure – many folks are from there or have family from there. Which may explain the number of folk with ginger hair
We have to comment on the driving (again!). Canadians are the worst drivers outside the Indian sub-continent and the Far East we have come across. Indicating is alien to 98% of them. Many drivers here seem to have the Hilux type Trucks so popular in the US, which is difficult to understand as the Island is not a 4x4 destination. Perhaps it’s the influence of their US cousins. To their credit they do have a great system on their roads that prevents accidents – some way before most traffic lights there are pre-warning lights which start flashing if the traffic lights ahead are going to change. We found them really useful & safe.
Something pleasant is that the local Radio stations on the Island actually play some decent music which is a joy while we drive around. They even have stations in Punjabi, French, Spanish, Greek, and Japanese & Mandarin.
We drive to see Fort Rodd Hill and the Fisgard Lighthouse. The Fort is a relic from British time and was built to defend the Colony. However, when they left, the Canadians took it over and manned it during WWI & WWII. The odd thing
is that the fort or guns were never needed and the only time the guns fired were for practice. The Lighthouse is lovely and overlooks a harbour where a submarine is berthed. The Fort is being prepared for WWI commemorations over the weekend. Chemainus
It’s off to Chemainus – some 65kms from Victoria, which is famous for its Murals. The story goes that after the Timber mills closed the town was dying till someone came up with an idea to paint some historic Murals to celebrate the history of the town & it’s people. The first of these was such a success that they decide to do this all over and now have 44 murals depicting different facets of life here over the years. It works! The town is lovely with this colourful display and there are even yellow footsteps leading people to where the murals are. The town is quaint and has a lovely feel to it.
There are Murals celebrating the Japanese community and the contribution they have made to the area. It’s noticeable that for a small village, there are a number of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese eateries on the main street. Of more
interest to Cags is Baby Bears Ice Cream Parlour & Café for some scoops of Island farms!! It’s in a pretty little square.
Having spent a lot longer here than expected, we drop into Duncan’s Save on Foods (they bought out Safeway on the Island and are our preferred local shopping place as Walmarts may be cheaper but we have been pretty disappointed with the poor choice and quality of the products there) and get some snapper fillets for dinner. It’s still pretty hot (about 80 degrees). We decide we’ll be back tomorrow for a look around downtown. Duncan
On our last day in the area, we decide to visit Duncan Downtown. Duncan is described as ‘The City Of Totem Poles’ so we are imagining something akin to Chemainus. It’s a bit of a disappointment really. The place is badly laid out and is sprawling with buildings of not much architectural merit. The main street makes an effort with hanging baskets, but the City Hall is a forgettable building as is the rest of town. Yes there are Totems around town with yellow steps leading to them as in Chemainus with their Murals, however, somehow the town
doesn’t pull it off. Also we have seen better and more totems elsewhere. The towns boundary borders land of the local First Nations people & the spread of Totems around the town seem in part, a way of acknowledging that heritage and demonstrating a sort of integration. Each Totem has a plaque explaining its significance and meaning.
We stop at the Garage Store for a coffee – a Community Store with allegedly Organic and Sustainable produce credentials yet the produce are from NZ and Mexico – so not sure that squares with the Eco Warrior label.
The old Railway Station is the Visitor Centre and Museum. Like most places in Canada, their heritage lies in the lumber trade. A Chinatown exists here too – where Chinese labourers came to work in the lumber trade, railways, provide laundry services and Chinese restaurants.
It’s not a place we would recommend visitors to head to. And then we make the day even worse! Cowichan Lake
For some god forsaken reason we have decided to visit Cowichan Lake. It’s supposed to be a tourist spot for swimming & fishing etc. We suppose we had visions of Penticton Beach etc.
However what we found in ‘famous’ Honeymoon Beach were a couple of families chilling out. The water was choppy due to high wind but it was obvious that only a small area was fit to swim in. We make our way to the main town centre and hope for the best and after 15mins decide we need to move on. The trip was a wasted 80 km return journey from Duncan. Let that be a lesson to us as we find we had small brochures on the place and Cowichan Bay & the latter won hands down based on the info…… read on. Cowichan Bay & Mill Bay
We decide to try Cowichan Bay after the disappointment of Lake Cowichan and what a lovely surprise. It’s in a beautiful setting and is a delightful seaside village with a medium size harbour/marina with clear blueish water and we see 2 seals popping in and out with catches of fish in their mouths – clearly dinner time as it’s about 6pm by now.
CB has a main street with a host of lovely little stores, cafes, a seafood sales retailer and a seafood restaurant, arts centre etc. It’s pretty
busy too and some of the houseboats obviously do rental stays as we see a French speaking family check in for the night.
Next we take the scenic route (a bit of an overstatement really) that is the road to Mill Bay. It’s actually a road that runs for a short while along the sea shore. That’s it! Mill Bay is really only a small harbour with snow covered mountains in the distance & a very busy restaurant and new seafront Townhouses being sold. It does look good and relatively expensive as an area. The rest of Mill Bay is actually by the Trans Canadian highway and isn’t much to shout about.
We make our way ‘home’ for our last night before we make for Parksville and the Qualicum Beach area, some 165kms away tomorrow. Some sun, sand and sea should prove a nice change. Parksville & Qualicum Bay
We are up early and decide to go back to Cowichan Bay for breakfast after packing the tent – which unfortunately now has a tear in the top due to the cones that kept falling from the very tall trees under which we camped. The squirrels eating
caused them to drop some 50 to 100 feet.
We get to CB and have a great coffee & breakfast at The Bakery – all organic stuff - and learn about the Community Concept called Cittaslow. It’s about sustainability and the quality of life of communities who buy into working to a green agenda and have an International Charter which is about family, community, respect and mutual support underpinned by a support of the environment. CB qualifies as one and they are linked with 119 other communities in 20 countries. A great concept we feel.
After a few more pics in th morning sunlight, we get on our way and arrive in Parksville about 11.30am & go to the Visitors Centre – a really helpful girl who lives in Qualicum bay area gives us tips on local food, supermarkets etc. She is very supportive of the Quality Foods store – a local institution but we found them not so good & slightly pricey.
However, the big surprise for us was Thrifty Foods – that we thought would be cheap and cheerful but was like a Safeway or Save on Foods store and had great options including wild
salmon burgers, bison steak etc.
However, the foodie tip was Lefty’s in Parksville. They also have a branch in QB. We go there for lunch and the food (superb smoked salmon wrap & Bruschetta with Balsamic reduction) is ace but the service slightly fucked up (we waited for over 40 mins) and they apologise with a free desert for us which we take out for later – a berry pie.
We take the coast road to QB after a very brief recon stop off at Parksville Beach. We get to Cedar Grove RV & camping Park where we are pre booked for 5 nights $31 + taxes with free Wi-Fi which doesn’t quite work at our site as we are so far away from the office. However, another Canadian scam – they don’t tell you when you book, that showers will cost an extra for $1 per 5 minutes. Why can’t they just be up front like the folks in the USA!
The tent site itself is pretty good, nicely shaded and ‘fenced’ in by rows of bushes. However, the noise transference seems high from the couple next door who arrived late and obviously had a bad
cycle riding session during the day and she was bitching about it in the most colourful language – surprisingly she returned after leaving in a huff. Her ranting lasted off and on, till 11.30pm just short of us having a domestic with them. Clearly it was full Moon & she was in ‘the zone’ – completely fucked up woman.
Dinner is an awesome Salmon, spinach and Feta Burger from Thrifty and some salad + a piece of wild snapper from the other night. Fantastic!
Next day after a lazy start we are off to see Qualicum Beach town centre. It’s pleasant enough but with nothing eye catching. We buy a tent repair kit though so get ourselves patched up in time for the rain that hits one night.
Then we go to French Creek where the fishing port is and visit the Seafood Shop where they sell produce directly from the boats and at ½ the prices in the shops. We buy some lovely Halibut steaks, fresh Calamari, a small piece of Smoked salmon tail (Canadian style – though they gave us some candied versions of salmon and Tuna to try. The latter was really nice.). We
have the steaks for dinner with Chard which is so cheap here.
As it getting late we head to CB town for lunch, to Rawthentic a Vegan place that does some really nice wraps and Bruschetta. A lovely fresh & healthy change for us. Great tastes!
It’s off to the beach next. Whilst it has been warm 21 – 23 degrees, the wind has made it feel cooler and the sea isn’t as calm as yesterday and it’s brought all the sea weed onto the pebble shore.
The town has a ‘Street Night Market’ on 2nd
Ave each Thursday so we pop around to check it out. It’s a good idea with a few stalls and various musicians playing at strategic site along the road so as not to clash the sounds. It’s quaint and has a very English Countryside feel to it.
Surprisingly the next day the tides out a long way and the beach has sandy sections which are crowded by locals and holiday makers. We go for a walk up and down it. We are surprised by the number of dead crabs that are washed up – not sure why. There are a
ton of mussels here as well but they are contaminated and folks advised not to eat them. We picnic on the shore (grassed area with picnic tables and benches – common in Canada).
The tide comes in by mid-day and C braves it to go in for a dip later while M is put off by all the seaweeds.
We’ve already been to the Seafood place to get some Halibut burgers and as they had them we couldn’t resist the crab cakes as well. The French Creek Bakery does some great Kaiser rolls which we get to try.
Late in the afternoon we pop over to see the ‘Artisan Market’ in town. Really small scale and more Artists Fayre with about 6 stalls & the guitarist from last night playing some classic Spanish music and selling his CDs. Then it’s a quick pint at Shadys Rest & dinner at the campground.
On Saturdays there’s a local Farmers Market in the town which is quite impressive, though some of the produce does seem pretty expensive compared to the local shops. Coombs
Then we go to the Coombs Fair which is a few kms away. It’s
a classic English small rural village fair including animals for the kids and various competitions, rides and eateries. We enjoyed our first Smokey Jumbo Dog – really nice. Then a large ice cream as it’s hot. Coombs is a quaint village and has a store with a grassed roof on it which houses a family of goats that feed off the grassed roof. A great tourist attraction and an inventive marketing ploy. Folks come and shop in the hundreds each day.
Next day we end up by the seaside and have two Lefty’s Pizzazos (small pizzas – amazing value @ $6 each). It’s 28 degrees & C catches up on her tanning a little more.
We probably didn’t need 5 nights here but it was a nice relaxing time. Let’s hope the rest of Vancouver Island is as good as the start has been…….
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