The first two weeks of our six month road trip around Western Canada had been pretty wet and cold to stay the least. Needless to say, we were pretty excited to have four night stay at a hotel in Tofino waiting for us by day 17. All the way back down from Port Hardy, we were patting ourselves on the back for having the forethought to pick up a really good deal (of the Group-on type) way back in December, especially considering it was in Tofino, which is known to be a bit of a wet place itself. Being that we had already been to this area twice, the hotel stay would enable us to hide from the rain for a few days, catch up on the blog, watch lots of trashy television and get reacquainted with indoor plumbing. Maybe we would head out to grab some food from Tacofino once in a while. However, as soon as we left North Vancouver Island, the sun came out.
The sun didn’t just come out either, it truly shone, from 9am to 8pm almost every day of our visit. The locals were amazed with the 25 degree sunshine too; ‘it never gets like this, even in summer’ they said. We mourned our lazy hotel stay for about half an hour, and then headed out to frolic in the heat like everyone else. Despite a few exceptions, the next few weeks were more of the same. And we have loved it. Even when it has rained, somehow it just wasn’t so bad. While visiting Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, one of the wettest places on the Island, we experienced rain so heavy that we could place a 500ml water bottle under our tarp and it would be filled within 5 minutes.
Chesterman Beach, Tofino
Below: Hot Springs Cove, north of Tofino. The water comes out at around 100 degrees celcius before cooling down to around 50 when mixed with the seawater. It was a 90 minute boat ride to get here.
These last few weeks have honestly been wonderful. OK, I know I talk about the weather a lot, but it really does make a difference when you live in a van. Aside from the utterly fantastic sunshine that kept pouring out of the brilliant blue sky (fine, I’ll stop) we met up with lots of friends, both old and new, enjoyed plenty of showers got out in the canoe a fair bit and ate very well. We explored the best rainforest we have seen on the Island (Carmanah Walbran), soaked in hot springs (Tofino), returned to one of our favourite places and had an equally fantastic second visit (Salt Spring Island), climbed small mountains (Mount Maxwell, Mount Finlayson), made new discoveries just off the main highway (Cowichan Bay, Kinsol railway trestle) and finally made it to some long awaited destinations (Newcastle Island, Merridale Cidery, Englishman River Falls).
The contrast between our time in the north of the Island and the south was a bit like night and day. It wasn’t only the weather and temperature, but also the landscape, people and places. North Vancouver Island was just coming out of hibernation in mid-April, while in the south, early May means it’s almost Victoria long weekend (17th-19th) and therefore the start of the summer season. It may have been a bit busier (we had to camp with other people!) but the atmosphere was nice after so many days of quiet in the north. It’s been social too. As well as meeting up with friends around the ‘big’ Island (one of these meetings included a return trip to the Comox Valley) as well as Salt Spring Island, we’ve been stopped a number of times by people curious about our canoe, our GB sticker on the back of the van or what we’re doing in general. It’s been really refreshing to be able to talk about our trip, our plans, get tips and advice, and sometimes even contacts for later on down the road. If we’ve met you recently, then this is a hello for you!
Above: We returned to the Comox Valley briefly to see a visiting friend, so we stayed at Miracle Beach again (three times in the end!)
What with the south of the Island being so much busier, there are far less free places to camp, even in May. Our beloved free rec-sites that we were so used to around North Vancouver Island were nowhere to be found, but somehow we still didn’t pay anything for accommodation the whole time (the hotel was pre-paid, so I’m not counting that). We have friends to thank (again, a huge thank you) and a bit of our own ingenuity for that. Unfortunately our ingenuity was not around while we were in Tofino; I think staying in a hotel went to our heads and the budget just flew out of the window within the first day. Even in hindsight though, sometimes you just have to live a little.
As much as we have enjoyed the last few weeks, a couple of things have not worked out for us. If you recall Jean Robert’s bucket list, two of his wishes related to Vancouver Island. We were unable to find the Cheewhat Tree near Carmanah Walbran (Canada’s largest tree) despite trying on two days. It was pretty disappointing, but Jean Robert loved the Carmanah Valley so much that we tried to focus on that more. Secondly, we chose not to hike to Della Falls as planned, due to the snow pack coming so late this year. While visiting higher elevations around North Vancouver Island we couldn’t help but notice the low snow line (indeed, we saw plenty of snow and frost around) and we had no desire to head back up into the higher climbs so early in the season. Watch this space though, it may happen someday!
A nice little paddle to Newcastle Harbour, close to Nanaimo. The city is visible behind Jean Robert, above.
Sandstone pulp stones on Newcastle Island (used in pulp mills). The standstone found on Newcastle Island was favoured all around North America, indeed it was used to build the San Francisco mint building
Newcastle Island Canadian geese, below.
Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. Home to an amazing collection of some of the Island’s biggest trees
Above: The view from Joan and Rob’s house on Salt Spring Island. On a clear day, you can see Mount Baker in the US
Below: Reaching the top of Mount Maxwell (Baynes Peak) with the dogs
Above: Views from Mount Maxwell
Below: More from Joan and Rob’s house, with hummingbirds
Above: Joan, Rob and us!
Below: A canoe around Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island
Above: Victoria, with views of the Olympic mountains (Washington, USA)
Above: At the top of Mount Finlayson, with views of Victoria, height 419m
Below: Climbing down!
Above: Paddling across Shawnigan Lake, to reach the Trans Canada Trail to….
Below: The Kinsol Trestle, one of the tallest freestanding free standing structures of its kind in the world at 44 metres.
Above: Drinking local (around 5km away!) cider by Shawnigan Lake. A wonderfully lazy afternoon after the paddle and hike to the Kinsol trestle.
Below: Englishman River Falls
Weeks 3, 4 and 5 – South Vancouver Island – Comox Valley to Comox Valley via Tofino, Nanaimo, Carmanah Walbran, Salt Spring Island, Victoria, Shawnigan Lake
Kilometres driven: 1360 (2762 total so far)
Kilometres hiked: 26km (Newcastle Island, Carmanah Walbran rainforest, Mount Maxwell, Mount Finlayson, Kinsol Trestle)
Lakes paddled: 1 – Shawnigan Lake. 3 ocean canoes
Money spent: Too much! The first week was massively over budget due to treating ourselves in Tofino with the Hot Springs Cove tour and restaurant meals (around $500). Second week was better, totalling $100 ($30 over budget). Third week $120 ($50 over budget) And this was all with free accommodation! Oops.
South Vancouver Island camping sites
Top level: Next to Taylor River (near Port Alberni), Miracle Beach, Rathtrevor Beach (Parksville)
Middle: Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park
Third level: North Shore logging road to Carmanah Walbran, Goldstream Provincial Park (near Victoria), Englishman River Falls Provincial Park (near Parksville)