Valiant Vancouver Island: part two

By | Category: Travel destinations

Continued from Sunday

The next morning, we set off again cycling for about two hours on the hilly woodsy terrain (stopping for more blackberries) around Cowichan Bay to reach the small Crofton Ferry Terminal. There, we boarded  for Salt Spring Island, one of the better known Gulf Islands, where we would spend the night. It took us about an hour to reach the island’s main town of Ganges from the Vesuvius ferry terminal. Salt Spring is an artsy community, with many studios open to the public, a cute shopping area and a don’t miss restaurant called the Treehouse Café. Not only does it feel like something out of a fairy tale (it is actually built around a live plum tree,) but the place serves up an excellent, creative menu and has nightly entertainment – we sipped our Salt Spring Island coffees for a couple of hours and listened to a great local band. Salt Spring’s roads were not exactly designed for cycling – shoulders are narrow, hills can be steep and drivers are not careful – so you will need to be, especially on the very steep hill out of town on the way to the Fulford Harbour Ferry Terminal on the other side of the island (about 90 minutes from Ganges.)

On our way back to Victoria from the Ferry Terminal at Swartz Bay, we took the Lochside Trail through the town of Sidney by the Sea, then on through pastureland, postcard-perfect pumpkin patches (yes, they celebrate Halloween in Canada too!) and very lovely neighborhoods with botanical garden-like yards full of blue hydrangeas, rhododendrons, roses et al. The route is well-marked for the most part, with the Lochside Trail sign largely always in sight. We passed horses with English-riders, Mothers with strollers, other cyclists and naturally, blackberry pickers. After some three hours or so, we arrived back in Victoria, having retraced our route on the Galloping Goose, and turned in our bikes to Cycle Treks.

Tired but forcing ourselves to take advantage of Victoria’s many charms, we opted for a quick stop into the magnificent Fairmont Empress hotel and a longer look at Thunderbird Park, the totem pole park behind the Royal BC Museum. Sitting on a bench with our sore bottoms, it was mesmerising to view the enormous totems and to try to decipher what the carved images meant. We also went for a stroll around the Inner Harbour, listening to street musicians, some of whom were quite good, and experiencing the city ‘vibe’.

The next day, we were off for the second part of our foray, starting with a three-hour drive up to the Campbell River area, passing through the town of Nanaimo  (where those bars originate – read on!) It was a romantically cloudy day – mountains looming in the mist in all directions, cool and fresh, and just as we arrived at our destination, the sun broke through. In the town of Courtenay, we joined up with the owners of boutique travel company Island Joy Rides, Laurel Cronk and Kim Barry. Irrepressibly enthusiastic and yet oh-so-professional and organised, the two women got us all set up with more Canadian-made bikes, plenty of goodies, map holders, and a very detailed itinerary, replete with sightseeing tips, mileage and kilometer listings, and landmarks. We found it charming that they give each bike a Gulf Island-inspired name.

My ‘trusty steed’ was “Sonora.” The company specialises in all-inclusive, guided cycling trips on Vancouver Island, but they are willing to help with independent trips and to design itineraries. In our case, they even transferred luggage from inn to inn – much easier than using panniers to be sure. We found Island Joy Rides’ service to be over and beyond what we expected – Cronk and Barry are impeccable in their service, concern, creativity and nurturing.

We spent the next two days cycling through dense forests and along the coast, stopping to rest at such gorgeous spots as the First Nations cemetery, filled with totem poles, behind Campbell River’s Discovery Mall, Miracle Beach Provincial Park, with its soft grey sand, small lapping waves, seagulls and tossed driftwood, and the mysterious, exquisitely beautiful Elk Falls Provincial Park, which seemed to be a perfect hiding place for elves and trolls – filled with giant ferns, mist, and towering cedars. The winding paths here tend to get even daily visitors lost – so don’t despair, someone will come to lead you to the way out, unless you’d rather stay in this idyllic spot. Everywhere we drank in the exhilarating salty smell of the sea and the sweet cedar fragrance and felt the cool mist and soft breeze of the ocean on our faces.

There are many lunch spots in the area, where you won’t want to miss a Nanaimo bar. We tried many during our trip! Nanaimo bars are very popular, traditional Canadian bar cookies, first made in Nanaimo. Canadians found it quite amusing that we weren’t familiar with these extremely yummy layered treats, made with butter, more butter, coconut, graham crackers, chocolate and yes, more butter. We found them essential for cycling, most definitely.

After that repast, we rode through Seaview Farm and took a break to make friends with its small herd of Highland cattle, who ate grass straight from our hands and let us pet their wet noses. Just as the drizzle was beginning to get stronger, we landed at our inn for the night, Susie’s on the Shore, a beauty of a B&B right on the beach, owned by a fascinating and very sociable couple, Susie and Michael Moscovich. The couple obviously delights in meeting new people and makes special efforts, such as Michael’s penchant for placing unusual herbs on the breakfast plate, asking guest to ‘guess’ what they are, and Susie’s passion to share her collection of local art (quite wonderful!) Just a five-minute walk from Susie’s, we dined succulently at Salmon Point Restaurant – a warm, friendly pub-like ambiance right on the water.

Campbell River and the surrounding area are noted for many totem poles from the indigenous First Nations people. We visited the excellent Campbell River Museum, stopped at the Rotary Park along the seafront, and stopped to picnic at the ‘long house’ park by the town marina. We saw seals lolling on the big rocks off shore, watched raucous seagulls and other birds taunting each other, and enjoyed the panorama of colorful boats on the piers, joggers and cyclists on the path, and children playing in the sand with their toes. We spent the night at Dolphins Resort, a cozy, yet oh-so-pampering set of 12 cabins in a fishing retreat right on the water, with a fabulous onsite restaurant (best French toast I’ve ever had) and private hot tubs, divine for après cycling. We loved walking out on the pier and gazing down into the crystal clear water to see many-armed sun stars and in the morning, we were thrilled by some 25 or so dolphins in a straight line, cavorting right off shore.

Our last day was spent on scenic Quadra Island, which we reached by ferry from the Campbell River terminal. We rode around the island all morning, visiting with local artisans in their home studios (don’t feel pressured to buy when visiting – they love to display and chat. Check out Bill Van Orden’s Big Rock Fish Art Studio at 1608 Hyacinth Bay Road.) Quadra Island is where we encountered the lost local in the bushes, and where we had perhaps our most amusing moment on the trip, right after a lovely lunch at Heriot Bay Inn, a well kept historical fishing retreat on the island’s tip.

We still hadn’t seen any seals, except from afar, and were assured that we would on Quadra. So on our last day, we chose to spend a couple of hours sea kayaking at April Pointe Resort. Indeed, we did see seals, but one was not what we expected. We paddled up slowly to the logs, as quietly as possible. Sure enough, it was a seal, a big one, and it appeared wounded, with what seemed to be a large pink gash. “Is it dead?” my fiance asked worriedly. But to our bemusement, just a yard or so away, it lifted its head, opened its sad big brown eyes, and we saw that it definitely wasn’t dead. In fact, the big boy apparently had confused us for a female seal, and was displaying its ‘interest’. Afterwards, we were mesmerised by two other seals jousting in the water some 30 feet away, splashing wildly and jumping from the water.

The week was over, and we reluctantly turned in the bikes to Island Joy Rides, then drove the rental car down to the ferry terminal at Nanaimo, Duke Point station, and settled in for the one hour, forty minute ride. Many seals and dolphins cavorted around us as we approached Tsawwassen terminal, giving us our last wildlife joy on Vancouver Island. I still have a frozen Nanaimo bar at home, waiting for a special occasion, and I’ll never think of blackberries as just another fruit again.


Useful information

Comox Valley Farm Cycle Tour,

BC shellfish Festival

Tourism Victoria

Tourism British Columbia

Tourism Vancouver Island

BC Ferries

Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa

Cycle Treks

Vancouver Island Cycle Tourism Alliance

Merridale Ciderworks, Bistro & Orchard Spa

Cherry Point Estate Vineyards

Oceanfront Suites at Cowichan Bay

Tree House Café

Island Joy Rides

Susie’s on the Shore

Salmon Point Restaurant & Bar

Dolphins Resort

Heriot Bay Inn

April Point Resort & Spa


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