Interesting Sights on Vancouver Island

After spending several days on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, we then visited relatives who live on the east coast in Parksville, near Nanaimo. They showed us some interesting places.

Englishman River Falls Provincial Park

This park is essentially in the Parksville area, and is a wonderful park for sightseeing, camping, hiking and, for some, swimming. The Englishman River starts on the eastern slope of the Beaufort Range, discharging from a small Jewel Lake, coursing through several other lakes for 40 miles and empties into the Straits of Georgia near Parksville. The park, established in 1940, contains a section of the river which runs over two stunning waterfalls into a deep canyon likened to a black hole. This is all very picturesque amid a lush old growth and second growth forest of Douglas fir, cedar, maple and hemlock. There is a beautiful swimming hole at the lower falls and an interesting suspension bridge across the river at that point. The local legend has it that the indigenous people found the skeletal remains of a Caucasian man near the waterfalls, thereby the name of the river.

 

Elk Falls Provincial Park

Elk Falls Provincial Park is located two km outside Campbell River, about 70 miles north of Parksville.The park highlight is a thundering 25 meter high waterfall, and some of the finest salmon fishing in BC. The falls are reached via a 3/4 mile winding trail through an extensive network of forest trails  and consists of 1800 hectares of property. A suspension bridge built in 2015 offers great views of the falls, as do several elevated viewing platforms. The park contains a hydroelectric plant built in the 1940’s; river water runs downstream from above the falls for some distance though three large diameter wooden penstocks. The water flowing from the plant runs downstream as the Campbell River.

 

Campbell River

This modest city and its’ namesake river are considered to be one of BC’s best area for fishing, with a heavy focus on salmon. Fishing is done in the river and extensively in the Straits of Georgia.

West Coast of Vancouver Island

If you have never visited the west coast of Vancouver Island, you have really been missing something. The drive from Nanaimo on the east coast is 2 – 2 1/2 hours through gorgeous mountainous terrain past a number of large lakes. Before reaching Port Alberni, you will come upon a magical place along the road. Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible strands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. Here one can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering Douglas fir trees, some more than 800 years old.The grove was a well known tourist stop on Alberni Road in the 1920’s. In 1944 the area was donated by H.R. MacMillan for the perpetual enjoyment of the public in recognition of he unique stand of trees. The grove became a provincial park in three years later. Natural regeneration is beginning to restore the Grove’s pristine beauty. This provide a unique opportunity to experience the diversity of plant like typical in a very old forest.

Once through the town of Port Alberni, the road takes a route to the west along Sproat Lake and along some impressive peaks.  Eventually the road runs down steep, winding hill and then along Kennedy Lake. Past that, the trail ends at the Pacific Run Highway, the principal road along the west coast. To the right, Tofino. To the left, Ucluelet. In between, Long Beach which stretches for 10 miles along the Pacific and offers wind swept sand, big surf and washed up kelp. Our main point of interest was Ucluelet (means safe harbor), a town of 1800 people situated at the edge of Barclay Sound framed on three sides by the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Rim National Park with huge stands of cedar, fir and hemlock is nearby. Visitors come to Ucluelet to surf, hike the Wild Pacific Trail, fish on the big bank, whale and bear watch and relax on the beach. In fall interests turn to storm watching.

We are here to fish, at least principally. This is a well known fishing spot for salmon and for halibut. But when not fishing, the area is unique, and the stormy seas, foggy conditions and black rocks along the shore are a fascinating subject for photography and for viewing. And there are fine places to stay and to dine, some upscale, some more casual. Our favorites included trailer food at Raven Lady – fresh BC oysters on the half shell, tuna poke, salmon burgers, fish tacos and po’boys, all situated with nearby tables right next to a BC liquor store! On the upscale end, dinner at Norwood’s was magnificent. The restaurant is in a smallish house with an open kitchen and maybe 20-25 seats. The halibut was superb, as were the fresh mussels and octopus. And the wine list is filled with impressive BC wines.

There are some lovely places to stay, especially Black Rock Resort, situated right against the roaring surf on the Pacific side. But we found great condos at Whiskey Point – overlooking the harbor, adjacent to the aquarium and a short walk to Zoe’s bakery. There are many choices for fishing guides, and the rush out of the small boat harbor at 6 am was quite exciting. Partial day charters typically run around the peninsula and up a few miles to Wye’s Point; these are normally focused on salmon. Full days can go south to the so-called Big Bank and fish for halibut.

Off days can be spent exploring Long Beach, the lighthouse, and Tofino. This is a more bustling touristy town of maybe 2000 permanent residents, situated at the north end of the peninsula some 20 miles from Ucluelet. Many of the same activities can be enjoyed around Tofino, and there are more choices of condos, resorts and restaurants. If you want busy, go to Tofino. One spectacular place to stay, to dine or to ocean watch is the Wickaninnish Inn, located just a few miles south of Tofino. This is also the center of strom watching in the off season.

 

Vancouver Island offers many other great places to visit. We have covered Victoria and the West Coast so far. In a future blog we will relate experiences on the east coast from Parksville to Campbell River, and provide some thoughts on a two day sail in the Gulf Islands.

A Weekend in Victoria

We recently spent a two-day weekend in Victoria, BC. Arriving by Coho Black Ball ferry from Port Angeles, WA , we checked into our hotel, The Hilton Doubletree on a Friday evening and quickly settled in to our two bedroom suite. The hotel sits right behind the grand dowager of Victoria hotels, the Empress, and we had magnificent views of the Inner Harbor, the Parliament buildings and the immediate downtown area. While there are many other choices in the downtown area, both these hotels are lovely and well situated.

Since we only had two full days in the city, we decided to focus on three activities. First we visited a very well done Royal BC Museum. Regular exhibits provide a focus on the natural and human history of the northwest part of Canada. Obviously there is a large exhibit devoted to the First Nations people and culture, complete with a totem hall, masks and other regalia. Outside the museum building there is a native house called Wawadit’la, or Mungo Martin House, complete with several totems, and also a garden devoted to native plants. We were also keenly interested in a current exhibit on Egypt: The Time of Pharoahs, accompanied with a good IMAX movie on the same theme.

Second, we enjoyed several blocks of downtown Victoria especially along Government and Wharf Streets. This is a very lively area replete with restaurants and specialty shops with views overlooking the harbor and marina. We especially enjoyed the people activities from walkers to visitors to cyclists to street performers. This was true during the day and evenings both. Our favorite dining establishments were the Steamship Grill and Bar on Belleville on the harbor, and Il Terrazzo  on Johnson Street. Seafood of course! We developed a real love for BC oysters. Following dinner at Il Terrazzo, we could not resist an after dinner drink at the Empress – what elegance!

Third – and a must – is a visit to The Butchart Gardens near the city. These gardens,  known world-wide,  cover more than 55 acres of a 130 acre estate and began with an idea that Jennie Butchart had to beautify the worked-out limestone quarry which had supplied her husband’s nearby cement plant. These gardens gradually expanded over some years to become the Sunken, Japanese, Rose, Italian and Mediterranean garden seen today. The gardens today are a National Historic Site of Canada, are visited by more than one million people each year.