A Travellerspoint blog

September 2017

Western Canada - Part 4 - Vancouver Island - September 2017

Vancouver – Campbell River – Port Hardy – Port Renfrew – Sooke – Nanaimo - Vancouver

sunny 30 °C

Our last leg of the Western Canada adventure started at Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal. There we boarded (car and all) the Coastal Renaissance for the short sail over to Vancouver Island. Ferry terminals in general, are not very attractive places, but Horseshoe Bay is an exception. It is more like a small beach resort with a marina than a commercial port. The weather for the sailing was fantastic, clear blue skies, bright sunshine and almost no wind, which meant we spent the whole journey out on deck.


Our first base on Vancouver Island was at Campbell River, a small town in the North Central region. Our two days there were spent hiking and using the good Wi-Fi to do a bit of admin. We visited Elk Falls Provincial Park, which was right on our doorstep and ventured further afield to the Strathcona Provincial Park and Gold River on our second day.


From Campbell River we travelled to the top of the island, to the town of Port Hardy. On route we called into Telegraph Cove, a small village located in a tiny cove and was once a fishing and cannery community. Today it survives on eco-tourism. We had been here before, some 12 years ago, and were keen to revisit. Many of the buildings in the village date back to the 19th and early 20th century, this gives it its charm. Unfortunately, since our last visit this has been diluted by development in the area and an RV park. Well I suppose that’s progress; it was still a nice place to visit.


Port Hardy is the most northerly town on Vancouver Island, and the gateway to the inner passage (a navigable route through a group of islands that stretch up the north American coast to Alaska). It’s quite an attractive town with lots of small coves all around it. One of those coves, Storey Beach, was recommended to us for a visit, which we duly did.
Storey Beach is the waterfront for the small hamlet of Fort Rupert, once a Hudson Bay Company fort, and now the home to a small Kwakiutl first nation community. The area is adorned, with beautiful Totem Poles and other traditional artwork, and most of the graves in the cemetery have Eagle carvings on top them. The area is popular with Bald Eagles, and we were fortunate to see several on the beach scraping over a Salmon carcass.


On our second day we travelled a bit further afield and visited the Marble River Provincial Park. We hiked along the River Trail as far as Bear Falls, a spot where Black Bears hunt Salmon, but it was still a bit too early in the season, so no action on our visit. We did see a couple of nice Bald Eagles though, and a Green Frog on a bridge walkway.


Our last day in Port Hardy was spent on the beach, just a stones through from our apartment. It was very tranquil and relaxing to stroll along the beach, watching Bald Eagles sore above our heads, Ravens fighting over a fish and a Blue Heron hunting in a small lagoon.
All good things must come to an end though, and it was time for us to head south to our next destination of Port Renfrew. But Port Hardy had left a lasting memory on us, for its exceptionally friendly residents and its sense of remoteness.


Port Renfrew is almost at the other end of Vancouver Island and full day’s drive. We were particularly excited about this section of our Vancouver Island discovery, as we were to hook up with our very good friends Dave and Susan. We had arranged to meet them at our accommodation in Port Renfrew, but we didn’t have to wait that long, as we bumped into them on the Pacific Marine Road just outside of Port Renfrew. Dave and Susan were staying with us for the weekend and we had lots of things planned for Saturday and Sunday.


Unfortunately, Saturday’s weather restricted these somewhat. It tipped down almost all day, but we still had a great time watching DVD’s, chilling out and catching up. However, we did manage a short walk on China Beach in the early evening, before a great pizza in the coastal hamlet of Shirley.


Sunday dawned with bright sunshine so we were up and out in no time. Destination Botanical Beach, just a few kilometres outside Port Renfrew. With the tide out this is rock pool heaven, and as all of us liked scrambling across rocks and peering into these miniature oceans, we were in our element. After a good hour of enjoyment we decided to retreat back to the beach as the tide was coming in.


However, just as we made that decision, our route needed to be changed. Coming our way was a Black Bear mum and her cub. So we changed our route, to avoid a confrontation, and retreated to a safe place to watch mum teach her youngster how to find food in rock pools. An incredible sighting and our first bear cub on this trip.


Dave and Susan departed for Nanaimo on Sunday afternoon (but we were to see them again on Wednesday) and we moved down the coast to Sooke on Monday.

On the way to Sooke we stopped for a hike to Mystic Beach. The beach is famous for its waterfall, which tumbles out of the forest onto the pebbled beach below. Unfortunately, due to the lack of rain, it was more of a dripping tap than a waterfall, but the forest walk was nice.


Sooke is a small town close to Vancouver Island and British Columbia’s capital, Victoria. Not so picturesque as Port Renfrew, but an ideal spot to explore the islands most southerly section.
With our good friend and guide for the day, Sue, we set about seeing what we could in the short time we had in the area. The day started with a beautiful hike in the East Sooke Regional Park. The Aylard Farm trail took us through forests, down onto secluded beaches, then up to a rock outcrop (Beechey Head) with views across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the USA coast beyond. We were also fortunate enough to see both Harbour Seals and Californian Sea Lions in the shallow waters along our route.


Then, following a few hours rest and a clean up, we headed into Victoria to continue our tour. It was a lovely bright and warm early evening, which was ideal to see what downtown Victoria (James Bay area) had to offer. A great day then ended with a pub meal and watching the sun go down over the Strait of Juan de Fuca, thanks Sue.


It was then time to head back north to Dave and Susan’s, who had very kindly offered to let us stay at theirs for our last few nights on the island. We had plenty of time for our journey from Sooke to Nanaimo, so did a bit of sightseeing on route. First stop was the Sooke Boardwalk, which offered stunning views out into the Sooke Inlet. It was then a return visit to Port Renfrew’s Botanical Beach for more rock scrambling, no bears this time though. Then the final leg, with brief stops at Honeymoon Bay and Lake Cowichan, both attractive places and deserving of a bit more time on another occasion.


For our stay with Dave and Susan, our aim was to socialise with them as much as possible. Being the middle of the week, it meant they had to work during the day, so we made the most of the evenings. During the day we were happy to chill out and catch up on admin jobs.
The night we arrived we had a BBQ and watched a movie at their place, plus a glass or three, but on the second and third nights we all went out
On the second night they took us to a Folk music gig. What, I hear you say, Malc listening to anything other than metal. Well I do admit this did take me out of my comfort zone, but I am open to new experiences. The venue was in Nanaimo at the White Room. Dave being a bit of a music celeb in town, he was able to introduce us to everyone from the promoters to all the band members, which made the event feel very intimate. The venue was quite small as was the crowd, which made the whole evening feel more like a party with friends than a music gig. The support band was a local duo, Ben and Dave; in fact Ben lives in the same street as Dave and Susan. Ben was on banjo and vocals, and Dave a strange instrument called a Steel Pedal Guitar. They were a good opening act, but I am not sure I can appreciate the sound of the Steel Pedal Guitar. They were followed by the main act of the evening, the Jenny Ritter Trio. Jenny was on Banjo, Guitar and vocals; joined by Adam on Violin (Fiddle), Guitar and vocals plus Ryan on lead Guitar. And they surpassed my expectations by some considerable margin. Excellent musicians, especially Adam, and great songs, all written by Jenny. All in all a very enjoyable evening. If anyone reading this would like to have a similar experience, check out www.jennyritter.com.


For our third night we all went to an Ice Hockey match, a first for me. It was the local side, the Nanaimo Clippers against the Powell River Kings. This was a British Columbia Hockey League match, at the Frank Crane Arena in Nanaimo. For the first two periods there wasn’t much between the two teams, but in the third the clippers collapsed and lost 9-1. Not the result we were hoping for, but a nice evening anyway. It was then back to Dave and Susan’s for a movie, a few drinks and general merriment.


The following morning we bid our farewells to Dave and Susan, took a ferry to Vancouver and flight back to the UK. And that finished an incredible Western Canada adventure.

Personal Observations

Vancouver Island has the greatest density of Black Bears in Canada. However, they are less frequently sighted than in other parts of the country. The reason for this, is most of the island is uninhabited and difficult to access, and that’s where most of them live. So we were very lucky to see a mum and cub on the beach, in Port Renfrew.
Little known fact on bears, unlike the majority of mammals they can see in colours just like human.

We noted that when buying spirits in Canada, the bottle sizes were different to most of the rest of the world. Generally, you see a medium bottle at 70ml and a standard bottle at 1l. But not in Canada, a medium is 75ml and a standard 1.14l.
The reason for this is, although the metric system has been in place for many years, the bottle capacity is based on the old English system of quarts. This has then been converted to ounces, but because the imperial and American ounces differ, so does the bottle capacity.

Posted by MAd4travel 11:46 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Western Canada - Part 3 - August 2017 - Alberta

Edmonton – Dinosaur Provincial Park – Waterton Lakes National Park – Canmore – Revelstoke - Vancouver

sunny 30 °C

We had a nice hotel in Edmonton; so on the first day of our two-day stay, we took the opportunity to catch up on a few bits of admin. But on the second day we got out to see the city. Edmonton has the largest urban park in North America, so that was our destination. We explored the MacKinnon Ravine Park section, which gave us good views of downtown Edmonton as well as a walk along the North Saskatchewan River.

From Edmonton we drove southwest through Alberta, and witnessed the most dramatic change in scenery of the whole trip. Southwest Alberta is home to the most northerly reaches of North America’s great prairies. Instead of forests and mountains, it was flat grassland as far as the eye could see, some cultivated and some not. Not the most awe-inspiring view, but we were here for a reason. We were here to visit the Badlands and in particular the Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Our base was in a motel in the small farming town of Brooks, and only 48km from the park.
The Badlands are a unique (for Canada) geological formation of strange shaped rocks lining the Red Deer River, and are in total contrast to the prairies that surround them. They got their name from the first Fur Traders to arrive in the area, who found no Beavers to hunt, so considered the land to be bad.
Originally formed from the sediment left by retreating glaciers during the last ice age, and then shaped by wind and water over millions of years. They are a mix of Sandstone, Mudstone and Ironstone, each eroding at a different rate, consequently forming the strange shapes we see today.

But where do the Dinosaurs come into all this, I here you say. Well, because of the mix of rock types and the actions of the Red Deer River. The area became an ideal home to preserve the bones of the Dinosaurs that once roamed here, and has since become a palaeontologist dream playground. However, the modern palaeontologist weren’t the first to discover the fossils, the Blackfoot (local First Nation inhabitants) new of them hundreds of years earlier and used them as lucky charms.
We spent two days exploring the Dinosaur Provincial Park, to really appreciate and understand what the Badlands were all about. Seeing the rock structures from all angles and even a few fossilised remains as well.

From Brooks we headed further south, almost to the US border, to our new abode in a little town called Hill Spring (population 129). Our journey took us through the land of endless fields of crops, combine harvesters and other farming paraphernalia. But before arriving at Hill Spring we called into Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to protect and commemorate the history of the interaction between the Blackfoot First Nation people and the Buffalo that once roamed these plains.
Before I continue, I know there has never been any Buffalo in North America, they are Bison, but the mistake of the early settlers still continues today, so I will run with it.
Before the 19th Century, the Blackfoot did not have fast horses or guns, so they had to catch their Buffalo by other means. One such method was to force the Buffalo over a cliff edge to their death below, hence the Buffalo jump. Very few sites like this, with such good archaeological evidence, still exist, hence its protection. The Blackfoot relied on the Buffalo for almost everything, food, shelter, cloths, tools, etc. and were very careful to manage this resource, as their survival depended on it. All this changed of course, when the European invaders arrived and almost hunted the Buffalo to extinction, and with it, destroyed a way of life that had lasted for more than six thousand years.
But you might be wondering where the Head-Smashed-In bit comes from. Well the legend goes that a young Brave wanted to view the Buffalo fall from the bottom of the cliff, but he got to close and got his head smashed in by falling Buffalo.

After a very interesting afternoon at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, we continued our journey to Hill Spring. This is a Mormon town, so they don’t sale alcohol or drink tea or coffee. No problem, we went to the liquor store before we left Brooks.

The main reason to be in this part of Canada is to visit the Waterton National Park. The park is in the Rocky Mountains and right on the border with Montana in the USA. In fact it forms the northern part of an International Peace Park, with Montana’s Glacier National Park to the south. It is a beautiful park, and we had three days of hiking along some of the nicest trails we have experienced in Canada. It is also well stocked with wildlife, we saw Black Bears on two of our three visits.

From as far south as you can go, before entering USA, our journey had to take us north to our next location of Canmore. I know we have seen beautiful scenery on our drives, but the one from Hill Spring to Canmore [via Hwy’s 22 & 40] has to be amongst the best. Driving off the prairies and up into the Rocky Mountains was awesome, plus we saw some Bighorn Sheep on route. Canmore is a special place for us, Anne lived there for a year, it was the place that we met and our good friends Brenda and Stephen live there. In fact it was Brenda and Stephen who had kindly offered us accommodation for our stay, so it was to their place we went first. Our four days in Canmore were very hot so we restricted our activities to a few short walks, relaxing in our very comfortable accommodation and socialising with Brenda and Stephen (plus Ruby the dog and Farley the cat). A very enjoyable few days.

It was then time to continue our journey west, to Vancouver and the last leg of Western Canada, Vancouver Island. But Canmore to Vancouver is a long way, so we decided to break our journey in Revelstoke.
Revelstoke is a small town on the banks of the Columbia River, with the Mount Revelstoke National Park towering over it. We stayed two nights in Revelstoke, which meant we could spend a day in the National Park. We took the summit road up to the beautiful alpine meadows, almost 2000m above the town. The views were spectacular, or it would have been if not for the white smog that hung in all the trees, the result of the forest fires that still burn throughout British Columbia and parts of Alberta (see note in personal observations below for more details).

Next stop Vancouver Island.

Personal Observations

On a number of occasions our host have been surprised by our next location. One such occasion was when we left the idyllic Tetsa River Lodge, bound for business town of Fort St John. Our host, a very forthright individual, said, “Why on earth do you want to go there, there’s bugger all to do”. We explained it was only to break the journey to Edmonton, to which she could see the sense. What we didn’t tell her was that we were staying two nights. Some times we need to stop and take care of the every-day chores, as these don’t go away when you travel like us – paying credit card bills, planning future travels, dealing with UK medical appointments, etc. plus the more enjoyable tasks of keeping in touch with friends and family. So if we expect a comfortable room and good Wi-Fi, we take advantage of it.

BC Wildfires
More than one million hectares (10,000 square km) have burned in the province this wildfire season, making it the worst in BC's recorded history. There are over 150 wildfires currently burning across the western province, as of the 28th August.
A state of emergency declared in the province on 7 July was recently extended to 1 September.
About 3,500 people in BC are currently under evacuation order and some 12,000 are under evacuation alert, which warns residents of impending danger.
BC has spent over C$375m ($295m; £230m) so far this season to fight the fires.
Some 3,800 provincial personnel, including frontline fire fighters and support staff, are helping battle the blazes.
Another 600 out-of province personnel and 1,500 contractors from the BC forest industry are helping fire-suppression efforts.
According to Nasa, the smoke plumes caused by the BC fires and captured by the space agency's satellites "were thick enough and high enough in the atmosphere to break records".
There are currently no hard numbers when it comes to property and infrastructure damage caused by the fires. But the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, which provides car insurance to the province's motorists, said on 23 August it had received 124 claims so far.
On 1 August, officials said some 300 buildings had been destroyed.
The fires have also affected wildlife. Images released online and to the media by the Tsilhqot'in National Government, which represents six First Nations communities in BC's central interior, show the charred remains of wild horses in the Chilcotin Forest.
BC experiences up to 2,000 wildfires a year but the majority are contained within 24 hours.

Posted by MAd4travel 17:18 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

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