A travel journal
to Vancouver Island by Re Carroll
Quote: The east side of the Island is more developed than the west and has many more accommodations and attractions. Although Victoria and Nanaimo are the main cities, the area north to Campbell River has lots to offer and makes for an interesting few days tour.
Dotted along the east coast of Vancouver Island are many smaller islands, called the Gulf Islands and among the most popular are Saltspring, Mayne, Pender and Denman. They are easily accessed by ferry although get quite busy on summer weekends.
The Old Country Market in Coombs (about 45 minutes north of Nanaimo) has a grass roof and goats who graze on it which makes for an interesting picture. There false fronted buildings contain little gift stores if you're into shopping. A further ten-minute drive will bring you to Cathedral Grove. It is a stand of old growth Douglas Fir trees - many between 200 and 600 years old and there is an easy walking trail throughout. You can do the walk in less than 1/2 hour if you are pressed for time but the sheer beauty of these gentle giants is worth a longer visit.
Wonderful accommodations can be had at Tigh Na Mara Resort, 1095 East Island Highway, Parksville, 1 800 663 7373.
The resort is just off the main highway, about 30 minutes north of Nanaimo. It is set among tall trees and overlooks the ocean so it's easy to believe that you are in a rural area. The exterior has a rustic look but the rooms have all the amenities you could want - fireplace, jacuzzi tub, queen size bed, coffee maker and a balcony that overlooks the water. Prices for individual rooms start at $109. per night.
There are also 1 bedroom cottages set amid the trees and about 5 minutes from the main building. They include a separate bedroom and full kitchen and prices for these start at $129. per night.
The resort has an indoor pool, steam rooms, tennis courts, badminton area, horseshoe pits and a small gym featuring cycles and a universal gym. Guests can also take advantage of free passes to a nearby local gym that has more equipment - this is especially handy if you indulge in Sunday brunch.
Popular, sandy Rathtrevor Beach is connected to the complex by a walking path.
Our favourite part of Tigh Na Mara is Sunday brunch. For $17.95 per adult, you can sample a multitude of goodies. Dishes vary depending on the season but there are usually prawns, crab legs, baked salmon and oysters as well as typical brunch fare like meat, veggies, salads, eggs, sausages and a full dessert table - yummy!!!
If you are staying at the resort, you can get a package that includes 2 meals per day (brunch and dinner) for approximately $20.00 more per night - a very good deal!
You can take a guided tour down into their depths to see stalagmites and stalactites. Tour price includes a lighted helmet to help you navigate. Some parts of the cave can be a pretty tight squeeze and there are a couple of areas where you must crawl through an opening on your hands and knees.
At the base of the cave is a small pool with a rock formation that looks like a Buddha statue. When the guide has everyone turn off their lights for a minute it is as black as can be since there is no natural light.
This isn't a tour I'd recommend for anyone who is even a tiny bit claustrophobic. The caves are open from June to September, 7 days a week and the cost is about $17.00 (CDN). Good deal!
These islands don't have as many services and amenities as Saltspring or Mayne Island so are less touristed. In my mind, that's what makes them so interesting.
There hasn't been a lot of development and neither island has a garbage dump so recycling and ecology is highly promoted. Both have an active artisan community and you will find home studios and little shops offering pottery, carvings, weavings and hand made clothing.
Kayak rentals are easy to come by and there are numerous B&Bs if you want to stay awhile.
Near the Denman terminal, there are a number of early 19th century heritage buildings - one of which is the general store. My favourite part of Denman are the nature trails through Boyle Point Provincial Park, at the south end of the island. The walk takes you through the forest and even though we were there in August, there weren't many other people about. At the end of the trail, there is a lookout with benches and a view to the lighthouse on tiny Chrome Island.
Just north of Boyle Point is the small ferry terminal that will take you to Shingle Spit on Hornby Island. If you are looking for a nice swimming area, head north to Tribune Bay Provincial Park. The park's jewel is the sandy, crescent shaped beach that reminds me of something you'd see in Hawaii. There are large rocks and big pieces of driftwood that you can use for a picnic area and the water is very clear and clean.
Nearby, Helliwell Park is set on a bluff overlooking the ocean and the walking trails there offer views of tiny coves and rugged headlands.
If you are really pressed for time, you could see both Denman and Hornby in a day and then take the ferry back to Vancouver Island.
Cumberland Provincial Park has a nice lake with a boat launch, cordoned off swimming area and camp sites near the water.
Courtenay is less than 1/2 hour from Buckley Bay and I didn't find much of interest there. I would however recommend a stop in Courtenay just to eat at The Old House Restaurant at 1760 Riverside Lane, (250) 338 5406.
It was initially built in 1938 as a pioneer family's home and was transformed into a large restaurant in 1974. The setting is lovely - two acres of manicured lawns and beautiful gardens along the banks of the Courtenay River. The inside is very cozy with stone fireplaces, oil lamps and lots of windows with a view of the gardens. In the summer there is an outdoor patio that overlooks the river.
The menu is pretty extensive - steaks, chicken, seafood, pasta and stir frys. The grilled lamb chops (about $15. CDN) were done to perfection and the chicken and vegetable stir fry (also $15.) was very filling. If you are a prime rib lover, they offer 4 different sizes, depending on your appetite. All the baking is done on site daily and you can purchase fresh baked bread or rolls to go.
The restaurant is open 7 days a week from 11:30 am to 9 pm (9:30 on weekends). Reservations are recommended for dinner but unless you're with a large group, you shouldn't need them at lunch.
It is one of the many lodges owned by the Oak Bay Marine group and all are tied into fishing. Situated right at the water's edge, the rooms are very large with two double beds and large picture windows that provide great views of the garden area or the Straights of Georgia.
We were lucky enough to be upgraded and our suite had a fireplace and jacuzzi tub as well as an upstairs loft with more sleeping space.
There is a lounge, pub and restaurant as well as a gift shop with good quality clothing and other items. It's a large complex and includes a fitness centre (we didn't check it out), heated outdoor pool, hot tubs and hiking trails. There are also 3 golf courses nearby.
The rooms start at $119.(CDN) for a garden view and $149. for an ocean view.
They offer packages that include fishing and also "fly in" deals that include the flight from Vancouver.
At the Lodge, you can rent a Boston Whaler, a guide, all your tackle and gear for a 4 hour trip for 2 for $248.00 (CDN). If you're not into fishing, there are 24 foot, 12 passenger Zodiak trips to Robson Bight to see killer whales and other marine life.
Abbotsford, British Columbia