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Published: October 15th 2014
We continued to thoroughly enjoy our stay at Azure Beach House overlooking the scenic Malcolm Island
in the far far north of Vancouver Island. The house was about half way between Port McNeill and Telegraph Cove with easy access to both - what we loved was the peace, quiet and complete solitude and time to do just nothing ... ... ....
We walked along the beach most days, usually around to Hyde Creek
- luckily our host, Rosalind had left us some wellington boots which proved extremely useful as we could easily cross the creek as well as the mud flats when the tides were right - had to be careful of the tides though as one could easily get cut off, particularly with the recent full moon and extremely high tides.
The 'resident' pair of Bald Eagles
were always nearby, usually perched in the tallest trees guarding ‘their’ beach and were often joined by a local Belted Kingfisher
on the feeding table (a mooring pole on the tideline). Great Blue Herons
would also fly in and wade along the shallows looking for fish - spending ages just staring at
the water, such a patient bird. We had not seen the River Otters for a while so they were probably enjoying the spawning salmon further up the creek. The garden surrounding the house was always full of Canada Geese who would fly in during the day, usually in groups of 20 to 30 and rest and feed on the grass before flying off again - one day we counted over 5 different groups there was over 100 geese walking, feeding and 'chatting' around the gardens. We had to be really careful where we walked as we made our way to the beach - again it was lucky we had the wellies! TELEGRAPH COVE
One day we decided to visit nearby Telegraph Cove
to join a whale watching trip. The northern tip of 280-mile-long Vancouver Island is served by a maze of logging roads and the road to the Cove is shared with the logging industry so we had to watch out for these huge trucks stacked full with giant logs on the narrow roads.
We stopped at Beaver Cove
and watched several large tractors moving
tree trunks around like matchsticks before dumping them into a giant skip which crushed them to a mere pulp. It is quite a few years ago now that we watched a couple of trees in our garden in Winchester chopped down and mashed this way before being transported away - such a small scale to what was happening here ... ... ... Neatly stacked piles of logs covered the area with many more floating on the inlet's waters waiting for the pulping machine or to be transported elsewhere. The nearby logging railway is one of the last operating railroads of its kind in North America.
Before getting back into our car we noticed some Blackberry bushes full of berries so decided to pick a few they are really delicious at this time of year and taste as good as the ones in the UK. Just as I was reaching for a nice ripe black fruit this little Racoon
popped his head out from the middle of the bush - you can imagine we got quite a shock and so did he. At first I thought it was a bear but soon realised it was not
- this little racoon was happily eating his breakfast so we left the blackberries all for him, he needed them much more than us ....
We shortly arrived in Telegraph Cove
and which was such a really picturesque place, particularly with the sun shining on the inner harbour - the reflections of the building in the clear water were great. In 1912 this cove was just a one room Station - the northern terminus of a telegraph line that began in Campbell River and stretched from tree to tree all along Vancouver Island's east coast.
This tiny quiet inlet still only has a permanent population of about 20 but this grows during the summer months when it attracts boaters, anglers, kayakers and tourist like us who to visit to see the whales. Most of the cove's building are raised above the water line on stilts or pilings and linked by an historic wooden boardwalk around the edge. Many original fishermen's cottages have been restored and turned into quaint holiday accommodations. We walked along the harbour peering into some of these old homes in many different shapes and sizes.
At the end of the boardwalk was the booking office for Stubbs Island Whale Watching
which had been established in 1980 and was actively involved in the development of the nearby ecological reserve where around 200 Orcas
arrive each summer to rub on the barnacle-encrusted rocks at the mouth of the Tsitika River. As the top predator on the inland-water food chain, they are also attracted by the annual salmon runs that funnel through Johnstone Strait
beginning in late June. Next to the booking office was a Whale Interpretive Centre
which was established to increase public awareness about marine mammals in the area and the many threats facing them.
We joined our whale boat, the Lukwa
which took us directly out to view the wildlife. The waters are home to a wonderful array of nature’s magnificent cetaceans including Humpback Whales, Steller Sea Lions, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Harbour & Dall’s Porpoises, Minke Whales and of course Orca (Killer Whale) which we particularly wanted to see. Guess what, within minutes of arriving on these mirror smooth waters we got our very first glimpse. [/justify; font-size: 18px; line-height: normal;
The on-board naturalist provided details of on-going research into the Orca. Michael Bigg
was a Canadian marine biologist who is recognised as the founder of modern research and he conducted the first population census of the animals. His team discovered that there were two types of killer whales living near the British Columbia coastline: residents
which ate almost exclusively fish, and transients
which hunted marine mammals and other warm-blooded prey. Resident and transient orca societies are separate, and the two types tend to avoid each other.
Bigg discovered that individual orca can be identified from photographs of the animal’s dorsal fin and saddle patch
. Another discovery was they have one of the most stable social structures of any animal species. Pods of orca had previously been assumed to consist of a few adult males and a harem of potential female mates. Bigg’s team slowly realised that orca pods are matrilineal;
they travel not with their mates, but with their mothers and maternal relatives throughout their lives. Biggs died of Leukaemia at only 51 years
of age and his ashes were scattered in Johnstone Strait where the press reported that more than thirty killer whales appeared in the waters in time for the ceremony. After his death The Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, was renamed the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve
in his honour.
The sea was calm with excellent visibility (mirror glass), at one point our boat was completely surrounded by Orca and Dolphins, the crew put down underwater microphones (hydrophones) so we could listen in on the squeaks, whistles and echolocation that allow orcas and dolphins the ability to communicate and locate their food. This was a really amazing experience, a first for us and will always be remembered such a unique experience listening to these wild animals so far below us talking to each other. The naturalist explained that the orca we we were actually watching were members of A Pod which was one of the first pods identified by Michael Bigg and Graeme Ellis in 1972. These massive Orca swam really close to our boat
and we stayed for ages watching these unique animals swimming and feeding in these salmon rich waters and our boat turned slowly in the current.
Male orcas are much larger and heavier than females, growing as long as 32 feet and weighing 11 tons, while females grow up to 28 feet in length but tip the scales at 7 tons. The size of the dorsal fin is also a strong indication of gender. Adult males, called bulls, have dorsal fins about 6 feet high and triangular in shape, but the dorsal fins of females are only half as tall and more sickle-shaped than triangular. Since it takes up to 20 years for the dorsal fin of males to ‘sprout’ to full size, a young male can be mistaken for an adult female but as you watch you can definitely see which are the older males.
A fitting tribute to Michael Bigg who did so much for the Orca was that two were named after him; a female, born shortly before his death in 1990, is known as ‘MB’ with an alphanumerical designation of G46. A male having been born in the year he died
is known as ‘Mike’ and has an alphanumerical designation of J26.
It was not only Orca we saw on our trip out of Telegraph Cove we also got really close to some large Humpbacks Whales.
So many of these giants had been killed by whaling and it's only since 2002 that they have been seen more frequently in these waters. Locals are all really excited that they are making such a comeback and long may it continue. Since there slight recovery to these water our captain told us that Stubbs Whale Watching has significantly contributed in the research to identify individuals by the unique pattern of their tails. This will enable better understanding of these magnificent whales and go someway in helping to protect them and keep their numbers increasing. To witness at close hand a whale raising its large six foot tail
when taking longer dives this close is truly magical. After watching them for a while you get to know whether they are going to raise their tail and dive deep or just resurface a little further on.
Swimming and diving in these waters and sleeping and lazing on
the remote islets were groups of Stella Sealions
, the world’s larges sea lion species. Watching these sealions watching us and not being afraid was a tribute to the fact that they feel safe amongst the few humans who are lucky enough to see them chilling in their nature environment - we watched for a moment and then moved on and leaving them alone in their world ... ...
We were really lucky that day and saw a huge group of Pacific White-sided Dolphins -
the crew thought they numbered over 500 and we watched them have a great time riding the waves along side our boat - not sure who was enjoying it the most. They just would not leave the boat alone and kept ahead of the bow for most of the time, how they did not collide with us or members of their group was a true demonstration of their agility. Also swimming with the dolphins were a group of Dall’s Porpoise
which are the fastest of six porpoise species, being able to travel at 55 km per hour - they were so fast you lost sight of them as soon as you
saw one speed past you......
Located at the west end of Johnson Strait, the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve
is truly a marine paradise. Seeing such a large diverse array of marine life in such a short period of time, together with an expert crew, calm seas and blue skies - we could not have wished for a better day and felt privileged that we were here at such a unique time to witness all this for ourselves. PORT MCNEILL
We spent our last few days in the far north of the island hiking and keeping fit but mostly just sitting on ‘our’ balcony watching the world go by and enjoying the silence and solitude only occasionally broken by the loud plop of a salmon jumping in the ocean below our balcony. We have watched so many different birds each participating in the life here, eagles, geese, gulls, herons, loons, jays, blackbirds as well as much smaller birds like, eastern towhees and western meadowlarks to name just a few - such peace and tranquility, we wished we could have stayed in the area forever but it was time to
move on again. HOWEVER
because we enjoyed the wildness of the north of Vancouver Island so much we decided that instead of heading south after our visits to the mid island locations of Comox, Campbell River and Quadra Island we would return north again. With that in mind we contacted our current host Rosalind who was working at Strathcona National Park
and arranged to return to Azure Beach House in a couple of weeks time so we could explore more of the area - we were luckily that she had no other bookings.
So it was time to head south but on the way we detoured on a short spur road to Sayward,
a small quaint township with a scenic harbour. Home to just 400 people it was a small hamlet ideally situated on the Johnstone Strait with direct access to the ocean. We walked around the harbour area and chatted to some fascinating locals in the nearby cafe come visitor centre before we headed further south via Campbell River to Comox. COMOX
We had booked a week in a wooden cabin at Udina Bay
, Comox which was
actually located next to Bates Bay. The accommodation was a brand new cabin that had only been available for a few weeks. In fact we were only the fifth people to stay there so everything was brand new. It had a really great ‘hot tub’ outside the cabin overlooking the beach. So each evening we would sit with a glass of wine/beer and enjoy the sun going down - bliss. We knew our daughter Kerry and Cliff would be really jealous as they just love hot tubs - we do too now! We also had a kayak and a row boat at our disposal and the owner said that the bay was ripe for picking Oysters and pointed out where the best ones were located at low tide and gave us his special recipe to cook them on the BBQ.
The ocean was just a few feet away from our cabin so it really was a great place to stroll when the tide was out and also watch the world go by after a busy day hiking. We were hoping to see some of the Alaska/Vancouver cruise ships pass by in front of us. Most of these
cruised the area during the night and it was quite something seeing these huge boats with all their lights blazing slowly sail by our cabin. We saw the Oostendam,
a sister ship of the Statendam
that we had cruised along these very waters a short while ago. We think Oostendam was the ship that our friends Bob & Elaine sailed with last year - they are currently touring around the national parks of USA and we hope that they are having a great time - we certainly did a few months ago now. Both of these ships are on their last voyages in Canada and will be moving to Australia shortly and new larger replacement boats will be sailing down these waters.
One day we walked along the shoreline looking for an opening into Seal Bay Nature Park.
We were watching the tide closely though as we did not want to get stranded on the beach as in some areas it was impossible to get inland due to steep sided cliffs. We saw a female deer with her young on the cliff side but were unable to climb up ourselves - these are so much more surefooted
than us. We were to see a number of these Black-tail Deer
in the area and around some of the local homes. We continued walking along the beach and it was really lucky in the end that we found an opening from the beach as the sign had fallen down - but we managed to catch a glimpse of it hanging off a tree and eventually found the track inland. After a steep ascend we were in a thick forest and followed a really good trail for a while eventually coming out at the main entrance to the park. There was a trail map on a noticeboard so we were able to get our bearings and find the way back to our cabin. We did this walk in reverse another day but found once we got to the beach that the tide was too high so had to climb all the way back up again - should have learned the first time!
A little way into the park at the start of one of the trails we came across a colourful box on a pole - a sign said, Ambers House
- it was a
little free library. Never expected to find a library in the middle of a forest but what a unique idea! Paul actually found a Clive Cussler
book that he had not read inside but we did not have a replacement with us … … So he returned the next day and replaced the book with one he had read.
Bobby our host visited us one day to replenish the wood for the fire log burner and outdoor beach fire. He also bought us some eggs from his free range chickens - these were really delicious and fed us for a few days. We shopped in Comox
, wandered around the small harbour and we bought some fresh Sockeye Salmon straight from Vancouver Island waters which was truly delicious never tasted such tasty fresh fish and the colour was really bright red.
We walked along the Comox Town Heritage trail to Mack Laing Park,
a small town park but interesting nevertheless. In the park there were several trails around a small creek and signs detailing the different salmon that frequent the area during spawning. Mack Laing himself (1883-1982) was a passionate self-taught naturalist throughout his long
life. In 1973, Laing donated his house and property to the town of Comox, for people to enjoy and appreciate nature. His house was currently being left to the elements - I believe locals were debating whether to restore or demolish it, it would such a shame to destroy the history of this unique man’s home set in this lovely parkland.
Nearby was another small town park overlooking the ocean with a stone and timber built rustic lodge. Filberg Lodge
was closed but beautifully landscaped gardens were nice to stroll around even in the damp weather. A large Totem Pole
in the grounds featured the crests of the four main families of Comox native people. A young family were having photographs taken in the gardens with the new member of their household who was just a week old.
On our last evening at Udina Bay we watched the local Coast Guard tow in a stranded fisherman in a small dingy before an inshore rescue boat motored out to assist them. They all managed to get back ashore safely and the Coast Guard returned to its port.
Already it was
time for us to leave Comox and head north to Campbell River - where does the time go ... CAMPBELL RIVER
Campbell River is known as the ‘Salmon Capital of the World’
or so the sign says as you enter the town. Salmon fishing in the waters surrounding the town has been going on for centuries, beginning with First Nation people that made the area their home, and continuing on ever since. It is still a popular destination for anglers and fishing enthusiasts as we were soon to see … …
We had booked just an overnight stay in Painters Lodge
and on arrival were surprised to find the place so busy.
We could not get parked but eventually found a space although it was a long walk to the main building! We were told that there was a wedding party and a celebration of life taking place so they were busier than normal …
The lodge certainly had a rich history dating from its establishment in 1929. During the late twenties, salmon fishing in the Campbell River area became so popular that Tent Colonies
sprang up along the
mouth of the river. A local boat builder (Mr Painter of course) decided to build more permanent accommodation, and so Painters Lodge's history began. Since then many famous celebrities have visited including Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, John Wayne and of course us - no wonder it was so busy! The original lodge was destroyed by fire in 1985 but reopened a few years later with an area displaying many old photographs and memorabilia from those early years - many with visitors posing with their prize catch. One photo caught our eye of a very elegantly dressed lady holding up a huge salmon by her wooden row boat - I am sure she never managed to ‘net’ it wearing those clothes!
We had a pleasant evening at the Painters Lodge, it had a really nice bar overlooking Quadra Island
where we would be staying later in our trip. We could also walk down the jetty and watch people heading off to catch their own fish or catching the ferry to cross to the island where the lodge had a sister hotel.
Time to move on for us again for in the morning we are heading
to a nearby water terminal to catch a Float Plane
which would will take us directly to the very front door of Sailcone Lodge
on Minstrel Island
located on Knights Inlet
- see you there.
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