Vancouver Island – Part 2


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Published: August 27th 2014
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Tofino (via Port Alberni) & Ucluelet

We leave the campground early & head for Thrifty Food, then French Creek to fill our cool-box for the next few days. On the way out we stop at the Courtyard Café in QB for coffee & have a berry pie & muffin for breakfast. We also get chatting to a Canadian couple, David & Shirley from Edmonton who have moved to the area as he has retired. He seemed to be fairly typical of a number of Canadians we have got into conversation with; describing the UK as having a lot of black people & regretting the fact that the immigrant communities were now running a lot of the local businesses and had bought up the fruit farms in BC. What he didn’t acknowledge was that the Canadians sold out because they could make a profit and couldn’t hack the hard work involved whereas the immigrant communities are prepared to take the risk and put in the hard work. Reminds us of 1970s UK, which had a lot of growing up to do as a nation. Canada seems to be in the same place 40 years on!

We hit Highway 4 then 19 to Port Alberni (the weather is a hot 32). It’s the Visitors Centre first followed by a trip to the main attractions here - the Harbour Quay which has a few eateries and ice cream stall, & Clutesi Haven Marina where the Salmon fishermen hang out and charter their boats out. It’s a nice spot and we have a picnic lunch on the shaded grassed area, before moving on. Unfortunately the 35 mins steam train trip to their historical McLean’s Steam Mill runs only Thursday to Sunday (it’s Monday today) and we will not be this way for long enough to enjoy it.

The drive to Tofino takes us initially past some lovely countryside with lakes, valleys and river. However after a while gets a bit boring and then later very winding with few overtaking options – so slow progress is made. We stop at the Visitors Centre at the X roads of the Highway 4 and 4a (Left to Ucluelet 10 mins & right to Tofino 20mins). They are very helpful and give us some great tips on what’s where & which hikes to prioritise etc. It’s a warm & sunny 25 degrees here.

Our Campground is the Bella Pacifica which is about 8kms from Tofino. We have booked a tent site with a Sea views. The site is in 2 sections. It has a separate space for the tent (very tight fit) enclosed in bushes and another area for cooking & the fire pit but with views out to the beach & sea – this is what we paid $50 per night for. However, showers cost $1 per 2 minutes (and no guarantee of hot water as some found out to their cost), which is not advertised & Internet is $3 per day with limited access – daylight robbery we feel. Still, the sea views are pretty special.

After getting set up, we pop into Tofino village/town. It’s a lovely quaint seaside settlement, with various activities on offer. Its history is tied up in the fur trade & being on the early trade route. It was once an Environmentalist ‘war zone’ in the 1990s when the local First Nations people & campaigners fought the British Columbia government’s plans to allow logging on the islands across the sound from here. That would have been madness. However, after many protests/demonstrations (some violent), legal appeals and many arrests, the area was declared a protected space.

The Bay is very scenic with floating planes taking off for tourist trips, whale watching tour zodiacs coming & going and fishing boats off to catch Salmon & Halibut – the 2 most locally caught fish in the area. We also spot some seals in the bay.

Later that evening we have a meal of the best sirloin steak (only £5 per lb) with Okanagan Pinot & Cajun potatoes. A great way to end a day overlooking Mackenzie beach!

One thing we notice is that Canadian don’t seem to obey any of their own rules (and they don’t seem to enforce them either!) e.g. they ignore No Fires at the Campground & light up and the same with No Fires On the Beach as we see the beach lit up with many campfires at night. And this is peak forest fire time; the papers are full of dramatic pictures of them causing havoc in different parts of BC and Alberta.

Next day is overcast & there is slight rain so we go off to Ucluelet (meaning ‘People of the sheltered bay’ in the First Nations Nuu-chah-nulth people’s language). It’s about ½ hour’s drive from Tofino. Driving around here we spot many wild deer grazing along the road side.

We stop off on the way at the Kwisitis Interpretive Centre in the National Pacific Rim Reserve Park, which is really informative about early life in the area and the number of ship wrecks along the shore due to the heavy trade route & poor navigational aids at the time. It’s a great centre with lots of information about the sea life in the area too and overlooks a lovely wild beach, Wickaninnish Beach (named after one of the famous Chieftains of the local tribe) – a surfer’s place that is also a collecting point for huge driftwood brought in on the tide that some folk have used to make shelters.

Ucluelet Village is really beautiful and a surprise package for us as the write up in the guide book wasn’t too good. It’s much smaller than Tofino and more spread out but has some lovely small harbours, attractive buildings and some beautiful beaches (stony and rocky) tucked away on the coast side.

At the Visitor Centre we notice a story of a local Japanese Canadian lady (Isabel Kimoto) before, during and after WWII. It’s a very instructive and touching story and gives an insight into the harsh treatment of the Japanese community (and other foreign nationals) during the wars, and the psyche of the Canadians at the time. Yet also the contributions made by the Japanese to these fishing communities.

We enjoy Coffee at the Barkley Café with Strawberry & Rhubarb Crumble slice. Then we are off to the harbour side where we see many boats come in with fishermen and their catches of the day – quite impressive Salmon & Halibut. We check out the Floating Patio & Grill which is a small eatery on the water in the bay. However, it starts to rain quite heavily so we quit while we are ahead and head ‘home’.

On our return to Tofino we discover that the area seems to have got off lightly and this is a relief on inspection of our tent. We venture into town and research Jamie’s Whale watching trips for info – they come recommended. (Post Script – we did not go with them due to the weather, however, in Parksville on our way back we overhear a couple describing their trip as a sunny, cold, calm, then wind swept and rough ride to see very little! So we struck lucky!)

At dusk we take a walk along the beach by the campsite. The changing scenes and colours are fascinating as is admiring the various beach side cabins and resorts. Thankfully it kept dry for dinner.

The weather is much better the next day so we venture into Tofino town. We walk to the docks and out of the blue an Orca comes down the Clayoquot Sound, which is something we really wanted to see on this trip. We reckon this saved us $100 each! The sun comes out and despite the forecast of 13C degrees the car reads 25C and we believe the car. It’s pretty nice and after a trip to the Common Loaf bakery for coffee & free Wi-Fi, we take a trip to the Whale Centre, which is quite interesting. Then it’s a visit to the Eagle Aerie Gallery of First Nation people’s art – it’s pretty good, though the pieces are very expensive.

Later for lunch we have a picnic by the harbour near Jack’s diner when unfortunately it becomes suddenly very overcast. So in the afternoon we go to Wickaninnish Beach again. We enjoy watching the surfers at play & walk along the beach. Later we make our way to Combers Beach which is famous for its sea marine wildlife. To get there we have to do a ½ km walk through rainforest and back. It’s interesting but the sea mist has come in a lot so visibility is pretty low. The beach is sandy and there are plenty of birds – but none of the bears, wolves or cougar that they warn you about. Damn!

Our final day starts off cold. The forecast high is 12 degrees C and its overcast though with some promise of sun in the afternoon so we make our way back to Ucluelet. It’s the right decision as its sunny here. After coffee & a snack at Barkley’s we explore the village a bit more and find the square with some lovely shops and eateries by the dock. The scene is quite pretty and relaxing.

For lunch we have a picnic at Big Beach, not far away – unfortunately just as we get there so does the heavy sea mist but still we sit there and enjoy the peace and views. Later we go back into Ukee as its known and go to the Japanese Harbour. This is named in recognition of the Japanese community and their contribution to the village since 1905. A small fishing boat has come in and the owner is gutting the catch, while a seal swims around in the water optimistically waiting for any scraps. He doesn’t get any – its unlawful to feed them apparently.

Finally, we do the hike everyone recommends; the 2.5km loop of the Wild West Pacific Trail. It’s lovely and would have been spectacular but for the sea mist which obscures some of the views of the various coves – even the Lighthouse has its foghorn going rather than its light. So we finish this part of our trip of the Island and tomorrow make our way via Port Alberni and Qualicum Beach to Campbell River & North Vancouver Island for all it has to offer…..

We didn’t quite bargain for the fact that the weather forecasters got it completely wrong. Heavy mist came in and water droplets start dropping off the trees as condensation. Then it starts to drizzle – the boring type that says ' we are here to stay’. It gently rains all night and we get up to a wet morning.

Campbell River (CR) via Port Alberni (PA) & Qualicum Beach (QB)

After carefully packing our wet tent into the car we drive off from Tofino to stop off at Port Alberni (equally wet) for breakfast at the Swale Rock Café. It’s packed with locals and the staff are pretty stressed due to the introduction of a new computer system that day. It quickly empties and we get a table and have an awesome Seafood Benny & French Toast with fruit & great coffee.

We go to the supermarket to stock up on some food as we are not sure what to expect in the North of the Island, next the BC Liquor store for booze & fill up with gas as its much cheaper here. Then it’s a quick stop at Qualicum Beach (which we have to pass on our way) to French Creek for some fish & crab cakes. It pisses down all the way for the 2 hour drive to Campbell River. The silver lining is that this is a long travel day so the weather didn't matter too much - till of course we have to put the tent up! We even consider a Motel for the night as the rain is so bad. However, as we get to CR it stops raining. Phew.

The local Visitor Centre is really helpful & we get a host of tips from them. Using the free phone at the Centre we can only get onto the waiting list for Grizzly Bear trip in TC as all dates are pretty well booked up. We do book the Whale watching trip though which is highly recommended.

As the rain has stopped and the sun appears to be drying out the dampness, we go to the campground which is about 6kms out of town. The Parkside campground is one of the best we have come across in Canada or even the US. It’s neat, tidy & really nicely laid out and even though slightly wet it's warm & we get the tent up. Also surprisingly, the showers are free & the laundry inexpensive. A 5 star place all in all for $23 per night. Awesome value! So we celebrate with a Steak dinner with Okanagan Iniskillin wine (Pinot).

Unfortunately the Laptop starts giving trouble when M is doing the blog – so slight panic as we have a lot of stuff still stored on it including some pictures and the latest blogs. Also without it our future travel will be difficult as we use the laptop to download all the pictures and clear the memory cards onto the Transcend hard drives. A new priority for tomorrow.

C wakes up to a sunny day & M has spent quite some time moving important stuff onto the transcend already. However, if the kit is not fixed we have problems as 2 of the Memory Cards are nearly full and we can’t clear them for more picture any other way – slight panic! Anyway, it’s Saturday and we go straight to the VC again. They offer 2 local computer places to visit. The first is closed – damn! The second by the Fishing Dock is thankfully open and the guy suggests that the Touch Pad may have dirt and does a quick WD40 & air pressure clean & hey presto it’s fixed. We also buy a mouse to link in if the problem recurs. $22 well spent for peace of mind.

Now relaxed we take a walk around the Waterfront of this City. The place looks pretty closed & quiet for a weekend. The walk along the sea front is interesting and we make our way to the Public Fishing Pier (the only saltwater one in Canada). For a $3 per hour fee and Fishing license anyone can hire a rod and bait and fish for Salmon here. Many do as its peak salmon run time. The best catch so far was yesterday when a guy hauled in 26.5lbs of salmon – wow.

We have been given a buy 1 get 1 free coupon by the VC for the Dock ice cream shop which is very popular and now we know why. A single ice cream warrants 3 massive scoops – it’s like Mount Everest on a cone. So any thoughts of lunch vanish – this is it and it’s pretty great on a hot day. We notice that a nearby ship is selling fresh wild salmon for $4 a lb – amazing value – they say this is the best year for about 14 years for salmon fishing. We discover why later.

Late in the afternoon we go to watch the fishermen on the river near to our campground. The river is full of them, as it is with salmon jumping up along the way. It’s an amazing scene. The fish are being reeled in like mackerel off Brighton Pier – all they had to do was cast it seems and they hooked another and another. We are sure folk live off salmon for about 6 months of the year from what they catch during this season.

Telegraph Cove (TC)

The drive to TC from CR takes about 2 hours (definitely not doing the speed limit!). We go through different landscapes; however, after the range we have seen it appears samey. Not so when we get to Telegraph Cove though.

We arrive at 12ish and head for the nearest coffee place. We meet an interesting guy (Mum Greek, Dad Canadian). He lives in Naxos and runs a Greek Radio station. He was born here but went there in 1988 but is here because the Greek economy was so bad, the revenue to the station dried up so he came here to work for a few months to keep him employed. He still runs his radio spot from here!

We have booked with the Telegraph Cove ‘Resort’ – fancy name for what seems like a great community business project. The campground is one of the best we have been to in Canada = to the one in Campbell River. It’s a km out of the Village on a dirt track. However, we are back in Bear Country & stories abound of number of sightings etc. Apparently this summer because of the concerns about bear activity near the village, 3 were shot and 2 captured and relocated. There was a cougar sighting down the street the day we arrived & there’s a great picture taken of one on a cell phone near here in the Café by the General Store.

Telegraph Cove is a beautiful little village, in a small bay (or cove) where most people come to go Salmon Fishing (and quite successfully by the catches we have seen people bring in), Kayaking, Whale spotting or Bear Watching. The place is almost a village on stilts, very colourful and hugely photogenic. There’s a lower floating boardwalk where the boats are moored which you can walk on & it rises and falls with the tide – neat but you need your sea legs on as they sway a bit. There’s a board walk on the other side of the cove as well which gives you great views of the village looking into the centre of the cove from the sea entry point.

Its history is about Timber Mills & Salted Salmon for export to Japan – a JV between 2 Japanese guys and a Canadian started all this in the early 1900s. It’s surprising how much of Canadian history has Japanese people at the heart of things.

It would appear that the village enterprises are largely owned by a couple through the Telegraph Cove Resort Company Ltd, which owns all the properties and most of the businesses. There are 4 cafes, 1 Pub & a Restaurant – far too many to justify for such a small community but they get plenty of tourists and fishing folk who hire out the fishing boats. All the historical buildings on the board walk (in lovely colours – red, green, yellow, blue etc.) are let either as houses or rooms within, and nearly all have a sign outside that says something of the history of the house and family that lived there. In the middle of this is a relic of a Dodge Truck – which is like a character out of the Cars movie and it’s pretty photogenic. At the end of the main Pier is the Whale Museum which is in the old mill buildings so looks great.

One piece of bad news is that the Grizzly Bear tours are oversubscribed so we will not make the trip. C is gutted but M suggests that it’s something she might wish to consider for her next big birthday & we book in advance which we should have done here & definitely missed a trick. It’s an all day trip – 7am to 4.30pm & costs $300 plus taxes each. The First Nations people also run a similar trip for $350 + tax each but do so for a limited published period and virtually guarantee sightings. Their season starts in 1 weeks’ time. The big draw here is that you see them chasing or catching salmon that are making their run ‘home’. Another time then….

We have our ‘last supper’ while camping on this whole trip. It’s pretty special as well – crab cakes from French Creek & they are awesome. We also finish our supply of beers – so 2 nights eating out to taste the delights of the The Old Saltery Pub & Killer Whale Cafe – which have a good menu & do large portions & also the Seahorse Café & Gallery– which seems to be independent of the TC Resort business.

Before dinner we are exploring the village areas we haven’t seen and have the delight of seeing black bear eating berries on the cliff overlooking the harbour. It stays there for ages and most locals are pretty unconcerned or even disinterested as they see this often. Dinner is at the Pub – their speciality Seafood Chowder & some chicken wings washed down with Killer Whale IPA. Not bad.

We notice there are a lot of French speaking Canadians as visitors who seem more reserved and unfriendly. So given the Canadian reserve and the French arrogance we see the worst of both worlds in one. Not sure what that holds for our trips to Montreal & Quebec?

It’s our final day in North Vancouver Island and our last day of camping on this mega trip of North America as they refer to this continent here. We are booked onto a Whale Watching trip with Stubbs Island Whale Watching. It’s overcast, which is a shame but we hope for sunshine later. We leave with Captain Wayne and an Environmental Expert on Life on the Ocean at 9 am. We are only ½ km from the village when we sight Whale ‘blows’ nearby. On the way there suddenly we see dolphins by the dozen, with a group of Orcas! We are out at sea for about 3.5hours (and stay largely within 1.5 miles from the village for the whole time) and see a host of Humpback Whales, Orca groups, Dolphins – different species, Porpoises - different species, Steller Sea Lions (the biggest in the world), Seals, Bald Eagles & a young one in its nest, and a lot of other sea birds - some from Scandinavia. And the sun comes out at about 11am and makes the scenery more colourful. Wow! What a trip. We doubt we’ll see better anywhere.

We have lunch at the Seahorse Café – a lovely Mahi Mahi Burger & an awesome Bavarian Smokie (a Canadian Hotdog). Then it’s time to edit the ‘millions’ of pictures we have taken.

The afternoon is spent cleaning up the car and the camping gear. Most we will try and gift to a charity, the rest goes in the bin. Oddly one of the most useful bits of equipment we have was the cardboard box we used to send the camping stuff from Seattle to Calgary. It was used as a buffer when the tent was packed wet and also door mat at the tent entrance. So thanks tent you have served us very well over 5 years.

For dinner it’s the Killer Whale Café – there are not many options in the village. The Fish & Chips are really good (though chips pre-manufactured) + Halibut Burger also good but the fish filet could have been a better size portion for the price. After dinner walking on the pier we see 2 River Otters at the end of the Boardwalk. Wow, we’ve seen more wildlife here than the rest of Canada so far!

Nainamo – overnight stop

It’s an early rise to pack up – our camping trip is now over! At 8am we have breakfast at the Seahorse Café in the village & its brilliant - Great service, quick and the prices very reasonable. Then it’s the 2hr drive to Parksville for lunch at Lefty’s after a quick stop over at CR for gas.

At Lefty’s the service is much better this time around and they accommodate our choices – one off the menu. We then handover all our camping stuff – bar the head torches & a few bits to The Salvation Army Thrift shop a block away to sell for charity. It’s all pretty easy & they are pretty helpful.

We get to Nanaimo without too much fuss and find our Motel – The Howard Johnson Motel easily. It’s within walking distance of downtown which is good. We venture out for a walk by the Waterfront area nearer dusk. The walkway goes via the river (where quite a few people are fishing – many women for a change), then onto the Park by the waterfront. There’s a band playing in the park with many locals enjoying the show in their beach chairs. The music is quite 60s to 80s stuff and done quite well. After exploring the waterfront we decide that Nanaimo is an odd place. It’s a large Ferry Port & Industrial City but also has a marina and nice parks. The main town buildings don’t quite complement each other and there’s a lot of concrete around.

We eventually choose to go to Rewsters (a new establishment on the main drag) for dinner. Most places have closed at 6pm. We end up with squid, crab cakes and a dish of mussel & clams in white wine sauce. It’s pretty enjoyable as is the chat with a young black waiter who’s from Calgary studying here & trying to make it in Baseball professionally.

Vancouver

We refuel in the hope that we won’t need to again in Vancouver, then head off to catch the BC Ferry to Vancouver at 10.15am (arriving an hour earlier as required). We have some breakfast on board which is surprisingly nice and fresh. The crossing is a smooth 2 hour run, and then it’s a quiet ½ hr to the YWCA where we are staying again. The weather is a warm 24 degrees.

As we are meeting Shelley for an early dinner we go to Tim Horton’s around the corner for a coffee and quick snack. Shelley had warned us against this but we felt duty bound to try it as it’s a sort of Canadian Institution. The famous coffee is pretty crap – so never again & the banana walnut ‘bread’ just about edible. The afternoon is spent and packing & catching up.

Shelley arrives promptly from work at 5pm. We are flexible on where we will eat so we go to a pub in Gastown for some drinks. S sticks to tea, while we have some Granville Island Amber (as its Happy Hour!). Shelley is looking for ideas for her next big trip. She’s off on a Dragoman Trip to “The Stans” in October (some of the old USSR states where some of the Visas cost about $300 or more!), and wants to get somewhere booked after that. Eventually we go for Ramen at the Tai Sho Ken & we all go for the very spicy option (not a good call for C!) & char sui and rice bowl. It’s fab. Finally, it’s goodbye to Shelley (M sees her off at the station). She’s been really helpful and given us a lot of info about Toronto where she used to live & work. So a big thank you to Shelley for everything.

Toronto here we come…………..


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