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Our Western Canada road trip: North Vancouver Island

What a feeling to be finally back on the road. Two and a half years in the Comox Valley is the longest we have lived anywhere together, and while it was a great place to be waylaid, we are happiest exploring new places. Not to mention that we now have at least five months off work, that does help too!

North Vancouver Island

The first couple of weeks of our Western Canada road trip were based in North Vancouver Island – a region we had already seen some of and loved for the quiet, space and plentiful free camping.

You may wonder why we headed North first, over the much warmer southern half of the Island. Trust me, we did too after realising just how cold camping in April can be!

Cold and wet

Well, I’ll get to the why later, but camping in early Spring was most certainly different to what we were used to. Campfires? No longer just for entertainment, we often had one going all day just for warmth. I don’t think either of us took off our thermals during these two weeks.

And the rain. Boy, do you notice the rain when you’re camping in it! We knew it would be cold and possibly very wet, but it’s hard to imagine while you’re planning inside a nice warm condo.

Canoeing in the rain Atluck Lake
Canoeing in the rain on Atluck Lake – a place surrounded by huge and beautiful mountains, though sadly we couldn’t see them most of the time.

Finding space in the van

Aside from the weather, we’ve also had a problem with having way too much stuff in the van. We hadn’t finished sorting our belongings by the time we left our home on Mount Washington, so the van has been in bit of a jumble.

A substantial part of this is food from our condo, including about 2kg of frozen edamame beans which I’d forgotten were still in the freezer, oops.

Needless to say, we had quite a few edamame bean based meals over the first week or so! We’re finally getting there now though, maybe another week or so and things will be looking a lot better.

Sticking to the budget

Weather and organisation aside, life is good. We’re finally doing exactly what we’ve saved, waited and planned for. We’re outside, paddling, hiking, caving, exploring and living.

Best of all, we’re stuck to our budget of ten dollars a day. That’s the total for both of us, excluding gas for the van. In fact, we would have been able to save money if grocery stores in the North of the Island weren’t so expensive! We took advantage of free camping at the many northern recreational sites almost every night.

We paid for a campsite near Telegraph Cove ten days in to experience proper showers (our solar shower can be a lacking at this time of year), and spent a night at what I will call the ‘Magic Cabin’ at Cape Palmerston. Here’s some of our highlights from the first two weeks on the road, around North Vancouver Island.

little bear bear fire camping johnstone strait
Our first night at Little Bear Bay, around 40 kilometres north of Campbell River.
sea urchins little bar bay johnstone strait
An ocean paddle in the morning to collect some sea urchins for Jean Robert’s lunch. It’s a delicacy apparently.
Eternal Fountain near Port Alice
The Eternal Fountain on the Alice Lake Loop Tour of Karst features.
Alice Lake sunset
Devils Bath near Port Alice
The Devil’s Bath, another karst feature on the Loop Tour. This is one of Canada’s largest sinkholes
Prepare for the unexpected Holberg
Maybe a new motto for the trip? On the road to Holberg, almost at the end of the Island
Magic cabin Palmerston Bay
The Magic Cabin. A fully outfitted ocean side cabin for free use by anyone who reaches it! With a ridiculously warm wood stove, a loft bedroom and plenty of windows to watch the waves come in, we spent an amazing 24 hours here. The previous visitors even left us a bottle of wine.
Pacific ocean Palmerston Bay
Cape Scott hike Vancouver Island 2
Cape Scott hike Vancouver Island

Cape Scott Provincial Park

Here’s one of the reasons we went North first – the $10 camping fees per person per night in Cape Scott Provincial Park starting May 1st. Cape Scott is the north-western tip of Vancouver Island, and it’s a muddy 47km return hike to the Lighthouse at the end. We looked so happy at the start!

Considering it’s one of the wettest parts of the Island, we were very lucky to hike into the Park on such a beautiful day. We still couldn’t escape the mud though! 3 days, 50km, one 6.6 magnitude earthquake and a whole lot of mud later, we made it!

Worlds tallest totem pole Alert Bay
Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, near Port McNeil. A beautiful day, wonderfully friendly locals and interesting First Nation heritage. Here’s a section of the world’s tallest totem pole (56m).
Huson Caves near Woss

Caving on North Vancouver Island

We were continuously surprised by what can be found just off the main highways. Above is Huson Caves near Woss, and below Jean Robert explores a cave in the Upana system near Gold River. Both completely free and usually deserted!

Upana Caves near Gold River
Muchalat Lake canoe

Weeks 1 & 2 – Comox Valley to Cape Scott and back. 

Kilometres driven: 1402

Kilometres hiked: 50.4 – Cape Scott Trail

Money spent: $160 (right on budget!)

campsites week 1 and 2

Lakes paddled: 3 – Atluck, Alice and Muchalat plus ocean canoeing on Johnstone Strait

North Vancouver Island campsites

Top level L-R: Little Bear Bay, Atluck Lake, Pinch Creek (Alice Lake).

Second level: Kathleen Lake, Nissen Bight (Cape Scott Park), Nels Bight (Cape Scott Park)

Third level: Alder Bay (paid camping near Telegraph Cove), Muchalat Lake, Miracle Beach.

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Check out these other posts featuring Vancouver Island

How to Explore Castles and Ruins in England for Free
Our Western Canada road trip: South Vancouver Island