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Published: October 11th 2014
It took about two hours by BC Ferry to get from Tsawwassen
on the mainland to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. The ferry terminal was very quick and easy and had a small variety of shops where one could wander before the ferry departed. The island is large at 290 miles long and 50 miles wide. It is the largest island on the western side of North America and most of the 750 thousand residents live in the South of the island around the City of Victoria. We thought it strange that the capital city of British Columbia was on Vancouver Island and not on the mainland.
We departed the ferry and headed north to Nanoose Bay
where we had booked a self catering cottage called Swallows Nest
, for a week to chill and plan our onward journey around the island.
We had a great greeting from the owners, Suzanne and Karla, the latter was originally from East Germany and we had a long chat about the country of her birth. The cottage which was attached to their house had everything we needed with our own entrance and patio
with barbecue table and chairs. Inside there was a good size living dining and kitchen, a separate bedroom, bathroom and laundry room. We even found a ‘spider catcher’ in the cupboard but hoped we would not need it. Our hosts had just been shopping to buy us some white tea because we were English - did not have the heart to tell them that I did not like tea…..
We had thought that the cottage overlooked the sea but it was one block back so we set off for a walk and a few minutes later we were sat on the beach - idillic. Beaches in this part of the island are sometimes difficult to access as so many homes are strung out along the coast you cannot gain access through their gardens. It was only because our hosts told us where to follow the track that we were able to find it otherwise it looked like we were walking through private land. Although the beach is public it is getting to them that is the sticking point. It was a shame it was not viewable from the cottage but was not too far to
find now that we knew which path to take.
There was a small supermarket a short drive away so we shopped and settled into our new home. The next day we visited nearby Parksville and picked up leaflets from the Visitor Centre. We walked along Parksville Community Park and on to the pebbly beach where we saw numerous Sand Dollars
- we had last seen these little shells in Australia and they have a nice little story that goes with them which I mentioned in a previous blog for there.
We also hiked around nearby Rathtrevor Beach Provincial
Park a popular beach for families as it had a long sandy beach whilst most of the beaches nearby are pebbles. Another park we visited was called Moorecroft Regional Park. The small park had recently been purchased from the United Church of Canada and included shoreline and spectacular views across the Georgia Strait.
We sat on the rocks watching some small boats and several Kingfishers
diving in the blue waters whilst just off shore a seal was playing in the surf - a scenic spot to sit and linger.
We walked along the shoreline before following a trail inland through a natural forest of Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, Arbutus, Maple and Red Alder
coming out into an open meadow area - such diverse terrain made an enjoyable walk. We continued on past a small creek running alongside the trail and stopped at a wetland area known as Skipsey Lake.
Stopping to look at the lake Paul heard what he thought was wood being chopped only to realise that a Downy Woodpecker
was pecking away at a nearby tree starting at the very bottom near to the ground we watched as it pecked its way right to the top stopping to eat any tasty grubs it could find. Nearby in the bush we heard before we saw several Spotted Towhee,
mostly black and white they have rufous flanks and are a colourful small bird.
We found many good hikes near to our cottage and explored these as well, although we kept getting lost. Eventually though most ended up at a series of small ponds or a larger lake where we could get our bearings. We saw many water birds including a large Trumpeter
Swan which looked lovely with its pure white plumage surrounded by the floating green weed on the lake. It was all alone and nearby were lots of loose white feathers - so we really hoped it had not lost its mate … …
The next day we travelled to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park
- a really long name but a scenic place! We set off to see the falls and you just knew you were getting close as you could hear the power of the water long before you got a glimpse of them. When we finally did you could see the river flowing over the top of the falls before the water disappeared into a narrow gully deep below. We continued on through the forest along a steep sided canyon to see another smaller falls at the bottom but this had completely dried up apart from a very large swimming hole - a bit too cold for that though.
Our hosts, Susanne and Karla had a large garden with a variety of vegetables and fruit trees, they gave us some very tasty freshly picked tomatoes for lunch one
day - I just love the smell of fresh toms. They had a large fence all around their garden to keep out the wild deer that roam around the area. Whilst we were there we often saw groups of these Black-tailed Deer
walking around the lanes and munching on anyone’s garden that was not fenced in ... ... ... They also gave us some tasty plums which a neighbour had given them - he had to pick them quickly as he had seen several Racoons
the day before and was afraid that he would loose his entire crop - we benefitted though the poor racoons did not … …
We said goodbye to our hosts Karla and Susanne at Swallows Nest and travelled north through Courtney and stopped just outside Campbell River for a picnic lunch overlooking Quadra Island
by a sign saying the 50th Parallel.
This waymarker was placed by the Rotary Club to replace an older marker which had become very worn, and apparently was actually in the wrong spot! The sign was located on a seawall walk overlooking the island with the mainland mountains coated in snow behind - we hoped that
this was now the right spot ..... The island looked very scenic and we thought we would perhaps stay there for a while later on our journey. We bought some supplies in a nearby supermarket before continuing our journey to Hyde Creek
a small hamlet with just a few houses which is half way between Port McNeill & Telegraph Cove.
We had booked another self catering cottage, hopefully with sea views this time overlooking the Broughton Strait. VANCOUVER ISLAND NORTH
It got much quieter as soon as we left the Campbell River
as the road sliced through massive evergreen forests with mountains peaks, streams and lakes all around. The road is known as ‘Bear Alley’ for in the summer they congregate to feed on the ripe berries growing along the hedgerows. We passed a sign that said watch out for Elk for the next 65 km but no signs saying watching out for bears!
There was little traffic heading north and we travelled for ages (two and half hours in fact) only seeing a couple of other vehicles and these were mainly logging lorries (Ellen/Pattie - trucks).
It was hardly surprising really as there are only the two small villages of Sayward and Woss
and a couple of rest stops along this stretch of wilderness. There were a couple of rest stops along side a lake or a river with picnic tables and bathroom facilities as well useful if you wanted to break your journey.
We followed our host’s directions to Hyde Creek,
not that you could turn off the road as it is the only highway north, and we finally arrived at the Azure Beach House
which was located along a long private drive. Rosalind the owner came out to greet us and welcome us to her home. What can one say - this to both of us was ‘our dream location’
with the garden leading directly down to the beach (yes, we had a sea view)and cross the water was the small uninhabited island of Haddington
and behind that
larger, Malcolm Island
(my brothers name).
Rosalind handed over her house keys and we were really stunned, we had not realised that we had the 'whole house and grounds all to ourselves ... ... ... Rosalind
had purchased the property a year ago, rented it out for three months during the summer months and lived in the house herself for the rest of the year. During the summer whilst she had 'sitting tenants' she worked for the Parks Service at Strathcona Provincial Park
and this is where she was heading as soon as we had settled in. She left us an emergency number that we could text her if required but said she could only pick up messages early in the morning as mobiles did not work in the park itself - hopefully we would not need to contact her!
We loved her home straightaway, it was hard not to, it had everything one could want, with a stunning view from a large balcony that looked out over the scenic Discovery Islands -
the sunsets each day were stunning. Inside the house the living area had a large 30 foot picture frame window covering most of the front of the house with the same glorious view - so wet or dry, warm or cold you had a view to die for … … …. Outside there was a double garage, a
double boat building shed (the previous owner was a boat builder) and several smaller sheds - there was even one for the trash bins and a small 5th wheeler home. The grounds covered quite a few acres mainly down to grass with a few shrubs and larger trees leading down to the beach itself - living for so many weeks in a small van travelling around the national parks of USA, as well as living out of suitcases now for 4 years we did not quite know what we would do with so much space - but we soon settled in and made use of it all!
A short while later we walked through the garden to the beach and saw a couple of Bald Eagles
fishing nearby and then we saw a family of River Otters
eating fish on the beach as well (it was like watching a wildlife film all around us) and to top it all in the ocean a few hundred yards from us were three large Orca
diving in the deep - my dreams coming true in a matter of a few minutes and then Paul had all
of his with ferry boats
, sailing boats
, fishing boats
, seaplanes and helicopters all travelling around or over the remote islands, his binoculars would be a permanent fixture here. SEA OTTERS v RIVER OTTERS
I thought at first that the Otters we had seen on the beach were Sea Otters
but a little research later and I soon realised that they were most likely to be River Otters
but being no expert could still be wrong. Sea Otters
are true marine mammals, found only in the ocean and rarely seen on land (these did come ashore). They are really quite clumsy on land and are perfectly capable of spending their entire lives at sea. They are two to three times bigger than river otters (but I had no comparison). Sea Otters do spend most of their lives in the water, where they breed, give birth, hunt for food and sleep. The ones we had seen in Glacier Bay a few months ago had floated on their backs mainly eating crabs. The tail of the Sea Otter’s is short and flattened (these were long and thin). River Otters
are land mammals that inhabit fresh water lakes, rivers, and streams. They swim belly down like most animals and their tail is long and pointed (these swam on their bellies). River Otters live most of their lives on solid ground and use the water to travel and find food. We watching this mother and her three pups feeding on fish they had dragged out of the ocean, munching on them on a nearby rock before darting back into the sea to fish again. The pups we watched spent a lot of time feeding but just as much time playing which was great to watch. Fish were jumping out of the ocean right into their open mouths - the Salmon run had started and there were literally fish everywhere ……… We saw this family of otters several times during out stay at Azure Beach House and would walk along the beach whilst they swam along the shore line - just lovely. We decided bearing in mind the above that they must have been River Otters ... ... ... Whatever they were it was just lovely to watch them each day swimming and playing in this idillic location - we were extremely
lucky. BALD EAGLES
As well as the otters nearby we spotted many Bald Eagles -
they are not actually 'bald' but get their name from an older meaning of ‘white headed’. The adults are mainly brown with a white head and tail and they are closely related to the African Fish Eagle (which we kept calling them). The beak, feet and irises are bright canary yellow. The legs are feather-free, and the toes are short and powerful with large talons. The highly developed talon of the hind toe is used to pierce the vital areas of prey while it's held immobile by the front toes. Both sexes are identical in appearance but the female is about 25%!l(MISSING)arger than the male and it is easy to spot the male from the female when they are together but not so easy if you spot one on its own!
There was a large nest in a tree next to the house and Rosalind told us that a pair had just reared a chick but it had fledged a few days ago. She said that it was still flying around
the area but she had seen it less and less. We got to see it a couple of times as it seemed to pay a brief visit but every day we would watch the male and female who stayed close by. They would sit for hours either together or alone near their nest on two large trees overlooking the beach and of course the fish. We watched as these birds dived for their prey right in front of the house. Their nest was large, in fact eagles have the largest tree nests ever recorded and each year often return to the same nest with new material which makes it grow larger and larger each year. A bit like putting an extension on one’s house to accommodate more family members although the eagles quick the ‘kids’ out each year so do not really need a larger nest! Nest have been recorded as large as 13 feet deep. The eagles did not usually go into their nest but kept guard nearby. However one day we watched the female land on the nest and stay there a while before moving off to sit near her mate at the top of the tree nearby
- perhaps thinking about next year ... … A few days later we saw them both in the nest, it was wet and cold so maybe they were just keeping warm … …
The Bald Eagle is an opportunistic feeder which subsists mainly on fish - so this pair were definitely in the right place as the fish were still literally jumping out of the water and very easy to catch … … The eagles would swoop down and snatch their prey from the water with their talons and then perch on a nearby mooring pole, on the tideline to feed - they made it look really easy. One morning I watched the male dive, catch a huge fish, carry it to the nearby mooring pole and proceed to eat its breakfast at leisure. About two minutes after it had flown away the pole was taken over by a Belted Kingfisher
who also ate its breakfast from the same plate - a true ‘wild bird feeding table' right in front of my eyes. The Kingfisher would fly to a considerable height above the water before hovering on rapidly beating wings, finally diving to catch its
much smaller prey - but the same prize at the end. Another day I watch the much large female Bald Eagle catch a fish on the edge of the water, she literally 'flicked' it out of the water on to the beach but the fish was so large she was unable to carry it to the mooring pole to eat, so she ate a little on the beach and carried off a large chunk to eat in a nearby tree. As soon as she left the seagulls arrived to eat what she had left but this salmon was so big it was still there an hour later ... ... ...
A bit of trivia - the Bald Eagle is both the national bird and animal of the United States and appears on its Seal.
One evening the pair of eagles sat together at the top of a nearby tree by the house making spectacular calls and flight displays. Their flight can include swoops, chases, and cartwheels, in which they fly high, lock talons, and free fall, separating just before hitting the ground - these two were content to sit and sing to each other
as the sun set colouring the water beneath them a lovely golden orange. HYDE CREEK
We spent many hours sitting on the balcony enjoying the scenery and wildlife, watching salmon jumping in the sea whilst the ferry to Malcolm and Cormorant Island would sail by as well as the whale watching boat out of Port McNeil. One day we watched a couple of complete houses float by on a raft and another time we watched small tugs pulling a raft of thousands of logs behind, probably heading for the nearby Beaver Cove.
Within the garden were many Blackberry
bushes which were ripe and ready to pick - we enjoyed these tasty wild berries most days with our breakfast porridge (oatmeal) saving on the purchase of the delicious British Columbian Blueberries we usually ate. HADDINGTON AND MALCOLM ISLANDS
In front of our new home was an island called Haddington Island
a very small volcanic island where the grey andesite
is considered by many to be British Columbia's finest building stone because it is easily profiled and carved. Some of the provinces landmark
buildings including the Parliament Buildings are faced with Haddington Island andesite although the quarry closed a long while ago. Whilst we were there we noticed some movement on the island and a large digger appeared on the shore - there was talk that the quarry may reopen and I think it probably has.
The much larger island behind Haddington was called Malcolm Island
and had a population of about 600. The island was situated between Broughton Strait and the more turbulent open waters of the Queen Charlotte Strait. You could not wish for anything lovelier than this island and as I have a brother called Malcolm we just had to go and pay a visit.
The main port and town on the island is called Sointula
(think of coin to pronounce it correctly) - it means ’place of harmony’ in Finnish. It was established as a community in the late 19th century when a colony of Scandinavian settlers arrived with utopian dreams of building the perfect community. While that vision only lasted a decade, there’s no question those visionaries chose the right place for a fresh start.
We had to catch a 25 minute BC ferry to reach the island sailing out of nearby Port McNeill. We decided to take our car as we wanted to do a hike on the other side of the island at Bere Point and it was too far to walk to the trailhead in the time we had. We disembarked at Sointula and drove through the small township on a tarmac road but this soon changed to a very bumpy gravel one (lucky we had a 4 wheel drive). We drove for a while along a narrow track before descending through a thick forest, finally arriving on the other side of the island. This was the starting point of the Beautiful Bay Trail
, which winds through the rainforest along a rocky ridge - we parked the car next to the scenic beach and set off.
We were hoping to be able to witness a passing pod of Orcas
(killer whales) swimming off shore and even more remarkable see them rubbing their bellies on the smooth pebble beaches. Some lucky hikers had seen this natural spectacle take place on the island beaches along this stretch of coastline but they
did not appear for us - it is a very rare occurrence - maybe next time ... We did see some water life though, colourful Harlequin Ducks
were swimming just off shore. This brightly coloured duck takes its common name from a comedic masked character - we watched them disappearing under the water for ages before springing up again. We trekked on and on for ages before finally arrived at a steep gorge with a set of wooden steps cut into the forest floor. Most of them were rotting away so we made our way very carefully to the bottom and out on to a log strewn wild beach. We had a picnic lunch looking out for orca in the bay and watched the tide come in a bit too near! We had only completed about half the hike but realised that we did not have enough time to do it all particularly as the trail was quite wet and slippery, so after lunch we headed back to the car. It was a very scenic hike with breathtaking ocean glimpses, although much of the hike was traversing through very thick undergrowth and you had to constantly watch your footing over
slippery tree roots and wet boggy ground but so worth it.
Back in the small town we passed the main shop which is British Columbia’s longest running general store, formed as the Sointula Co-operative Store Association
in 1909. We walked around the local Cemetery where many old Finnish Pioneers
as well as people lost at sea were buried. One gravestone had the poignant words, ‘born at sea and lost at sea’. A newer headstone was etched with the words Prince Nicholas V Galitzine
born St Petersburg 1914, died Victoria 1999. I wondered who this Prince buried on this little island was so later googled him. Prince Nicholas Vladimirovitch Galitzine
started life at the Russian Imperial Court and ended it happily presiding over ‘Ocean Bliss’, a bed and breakfast establishment on Malcolm Island.
He was born in Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar's Village), the eldest son of Prince Vladimir Galitzine and his wife, Countess Catherine von Carlow. A maternal grandson of Emperor Paul I of Russia he was fifth in decent from Princess Augusta, King George III’s sister and therefore a sixth cousin once removed of our present Queen. In 1917, with the Bolsheviks fast
approaching, the family fled, but as they prepared to board their train to the Crimea, Prince Nicholas's mother discovered she had lost her wedding ring and refused to contemplate travelling after such a bad omen. When the next day she found the ring she chided herself for wasting their valuable train tickets. Just as she was doing so she was informed that the train they had missed had been hijacked by Bolsheviks and all the passengers had been shot. Luckier than the Russian Tsar and his family, they all eventually reached Yalta and boarded the British destroyer Grafton
which carried them to safety. It was many years later that Prince Nicholas moved to Canada and finally settled on remote Malcolm Island.
We finally headed back to join the ferry queue for our return journey to Port McNeill
and still had a little time on our hands so had coffee and cake in a small bakery overlooking Broughton Strait - the ginger cake was delicious. We chatted to a couple of hikers we had met earlier in the day who had also been out looking for orca and they too did not get any sightings -
maybe another time ... ...
Thirty minutes later we arrived in Port McNeill and headed 'home to enjoy an evening sitting on our balcony to rest our weary legs..... We sat and watched a stunning sunset with the sky and the waters turning different shades of bright yellow, orange and purple all around Haddington and Malcolm Islands - such a beautiful place we could stay here forever and luckily still have a few more days to enjoy this paradise - tomorrow though we are hopeful going to see the illusive Orca
on a whale-watching trip out of nearby Telegraph Cove
- see you there.
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