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The road less travelled; a trip report from Vancouver Island and Okanagan

The road less travelled; a trip report from Vancouver Island and Okanagan

Old Oct 20th, 2005, 06:10 PM
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The road less travelled; a trip report from Vancouver Island and Okanagan

My husband and I often travel to places off the beaten path. I have difficulty finding information for this reason, so I wanted to share our latest experience in hopes of helping/inspiring others.

The main reason for this trip was to do a cycle tour of the Cowichan Valley wine area, especially before it becomes “discovered” and too busy. DH also has dreams of eventually retiring to a coastal area and so wanted to check out the lower east coast of Vancouver Island.

We left Calgary on Sat. September 17 9:30 a.m.; a beautiful sunny day and the first of many to follow. Once again, the BC weather gods smiled on us in the month of September. We didn’t hit rain until the day before our return to Calgary on Sept 29.

I was intent on stopping for lunch at Takakkaw Falls near Field. I have been wanting to see the falls for 10 years now, but everytime I pass by, it is closed for the season. So, we had a leisurely picnic at the base of this spectacular sight, soaked up some rays and headed west again.

We were headed for our overnight stay in Kamloops, and made one stop in Salmon Arm at my favourite fruit stand; De Mille’s; just on the western edge of the city on the Trans Canada. We lucked out as a just-picked trolley of late-season local strawberries was being unloaded; they tasted the way I remember strawberries from my youth. Oh my, what a treat!

Normally, I plan most of our accommodations well in advance, but we decided to live life on the edge and take pot-luck in Kamloops. We had stopped for gas in Chase and the cashier recommended a motel called Scott’s Inn. It is less than 5 minutes off the TC heading into the city centre and is located on the edge of a quiet residential district. It was a gem; exceptionally clean and well-maintained and had an excellent on-site restaurant where we had dinner and breakfast the next morning. The price was unbeatable; $75 a night which included a continental breakfast. We ran into another couple from South Africa who were checking in at the same time and we ended up having dinner with them. They could not stop effusing about how lucky we were to live in such a safe and clean country. As he said, … “you hardly have to think in Canada; even the Walk lights sound when it’s time to cross the street”. This after his stories of packing a gun every time he walks out his front door……

Our intent on overnighting in Kamloops was to be able to make a somewhat leisurely dash to catch the 3 pm ferry at Horseshoe Bay on Sunday. Our first stay on the island would be in Comox and we wanted to arrive by dinnertime. So, we planned to arrive at the ferry by 2 pm, thinking this would be early enough for mid-September. We were the third-last car to get on the ferry! The next one would not be until 5, which would make for a very long day. Perhaps because it was a Sunday and people were returning to the island after a weekend away????? We breathed grateful sighs of relief and spent the next hour-and-a-half listening to an impromptu jam session from some kids passing the time (and passing some funny-smelling “American” cigarettes.) Yes, we were definitely living life on the edge in good-ol’ liberal BC……

to be continued......

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Old Oct 24th, 2005, 10:15 AM
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We arrived at our B&B (Copes’ Islander Oceanfront B&B) outside Comox at 6:30 pm. I popped our dinner in the oven and we settled down on the front stoop with a glass of wine. The best thing about this place for us was the location; it is literally right on the water; with high tide coming within 20 – 30 ft of our doorstep. It is located near (but not too near) the Powell River ferry. It also proved to be one of the only places on our trip to have a completely unobstructed view across the Strait of Georgia to the Sunshine Coast on the mainland, which made for gorgeous sunsets!

We were in the self-catered apartment which had been built beside the family home garage, and so felt very private. There was a large deck above our unit which is shared with two connecting guest rooms built over the garage. We were the only ones there during our stay, so we had utter peace and quiet (one of the reasons why we prefer to travel in September). However, I imagine it could be quite noisy if the other units were occupied and people were moving around on the deck.

The apartment itself was large with a well-equipped kitchen and a wide expanse of windows overlooking the water. It wasn’t luxurious, but certainly serviceable and comfortable.

We did have breakfast one morning with the owner, and it was very good, not to mention enormous.

It was about a 15 min. drive into Comox, where we spent the day exploring, shopping etc. Comox is a lovely resort-like town with a gorgeous waterfront, and lots of wonderful shops and restaurants. It still has a small-town feel to it, although this is changing as many retirees from the mainland arrive and condos are springing up to accommodate them.

We also visited nearby Courtenay and Cumberland. Courtenay is larger and busier, while Cumberland, once a bustling coal mining town, is still very small (pop. 2900) and sleepy.

We left Comox on our second morning and headed to check out Mount Washington. One requirement for me to live anywhere is close proximity to a x-country ski area. This resort is very well done with plenty of activities and facilities to offer people with a wide range of abilities all year round, yet does not feel over-developed. After a quick tour, we parked at the Nordic area (which has it’s own huge lodge) and went for a ride on our mountain bikes along an old logging road. We ran into a couple of groups who were up on the mountain picking wild blueberries, so we spent a good half hour doing the same (at least I picked; Joe made like a bear and gorged! We later had them for dessert at our next stop).

Leaving the mountain, we headed down-island toward our next destination to visit family in Nanaimo. Along the way, we happened across a farm stand in Royston where we snapped up the last picking of sweet corn and fresh chanterelles. This proved to be a theme throughout our trip; the abundance of fresh food was such a treat for us in-landers (esp. being from Calgary!). And maybe it was the sea air or just being relaxed and on holdays, but everything, even a lowly hot dog, was like a whole new taste experience!

We also stopped for our requisite visit to my all-time favourite artisan store; Smithford’s in Qualicum Beach. It has the best selection of funky local (and far-flung) crafts, clothing, jewellery and furniture; as well as a great patio out front with wonderful displays of art. On the same street, there is a lady who runs another artisan store, who also takes in feral cats and “rehabilitates” them for adoption. She has very strict requirements for her adopting families and we often stop in to get our cat-fix while we are away from our own at home.

On to Nanaimo……………………
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Old Oct 24th, 2005, 02:44 PM
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Great stories of an area (Salmon Arm) that I know well...looking forward to the Nainamo part.
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Old Oct 30th, 2005, 10:19 AM
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Thanks for the response LJ. I am really drawn to Salmon Arm; although my husband wants to retire to the coast, my preference is SA (or somewhere close by). It has everything I love; mountains, lakes, snow in the winter, yet a great climate for gardening, AND….. now it even has wineries! It can’t get any better than that for me!

Tues, Sept 20
Since the focus of our time spent in Nanimo is to stay and visit family, we tend to drop our tourist hats and just hang out with them. Usually, we manage to spend some time down at the waterfront and it is interesting to see how far the revitilization of this area has come. When we first started visiting Nanaimo in 1996, the downtown area could best be described as “down at the heels”, but the harbour itself has always been one of the most beautiful city harbours in the province. Over the past several years, the Harbourside Walkway has been developed for a four kilometer stretch starting from the BC Ferries Terminal (Departure Bay). The promenade is dotted with vibrant First Nations and Canadiana art galleries, great restaurants and cafes, a bustling farmer’s and craft market on Saturdays, a man-made tidal lagoon (Swy-A-Lana Lagoon Park), as well as many other points of interest. It’s a lovely area to spend an hour or a day. We decided to do lunch at the fish & chips booth right down in the marina area. It was very well patronized which is hopefully a good sign, and although the fish itself was perfectly fresh and flaky, we found the batter to be overly greasy. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the surrounding sights and sounds of the busy marina and the warm September sunshine.

The central downtown core is also being upgraded which is attracting museums, galleries, festivals, marathons, unique businesses etc. In fact, Nanaimo is winning provincial awards for its exceptional economic development.

Residential growth is also booming; I was particularly amazed at the communities and acreages spreading up the side of Mount Benson.

We left Nanaimo on Thursday, loaded down with a generous sampling of homemade preserves and smoked and tinned salmon caught by our relatives.

The stop of the day after leaving Nanaimo was in Ladysmith. On the recommendation of a local, we had lunch at George’s Taverna overlooking the main highway. The cuisine is Greek-inspired, but I had a craving for a hamburger and it was excellent with a homemade pattie and just the right condiments. In fact, everything was homemade, fresh and reasonably priced. Highly recommended.

We also checked out a large antique store, as well as the main drag, thus whiling away a couple of pleasant hours.

We were now headed to Sydney to meet up at the home of our cycling friends. There, we spent two nights enjoying their family and hospitality. We also drove to Port Renfrew to check out the tidal pools that Joe had heard about from a client back in Calgary. Although the driving distance from Sydney to Port Renfrew is only about 125 km and one would think to allow about 1.5 hours; in fact it took us 3 hours each way!

Highway 14, also known as the Sooke Road, heads west from Victoria and takes you to some rugged Pacific shoreline along the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. The road is paved, but very windy and hilly. The maximum speed at points is 70 km/hr, but these are few and far between (and very short-lived; I started to wonder why they even wasted money putting up signage for such short distances!) Our actual average speed was probably 50 and is not a good drive for people who suffer from motion sickness!

Nevertheless, it is a gorgeous drive, with tantalizing glimpses of the ocean and many choices of parks at which to stop and explore. Our destination was Botanical Beach Provincial Park which is literally at the end of the road about 3 km after driving through Port Renfrew. We parked and after paying our $5 per vehicle user fee, had a choice of several trailheads. We chose the Botanical Beach trail; an easy 15 minute hike along a gently sloping dirt path to the water. Once there, we spent a couple of hours exploring the unique coastline.

It is best to arrive at low tide; we actually missed it by about an hour, but still had plenty of time to explore. The tidal pools are the main attraction where one can apparently find an abundance of organisms in pools carved out of the sandstone. I don’t know if it was the time of year, but we were not so fortunate in our sightings; mostly we came across clams, mussels, barnacles and the odd purple sea urchin (and a small cluster of Harbor seals off-shore). No starfish or anemones were to be found. Whale sightings are said to common in April and May as well.

The geology however, more than made up for the lack of marine life. As mentioned, much of the shoreline is sandstone, but then one suddenly comes upon large ridges of quartz and black basalt. The cliffs behind and the emerald-green of the seaweed juxtzposed against the surf and clear turquoise sea made for some stunning photo opportunites.

A couple of important issues to be aware of (and well signed) are the possibility of rougue waves, and having the beach cut off by incoming surf as one gets caught up in exploring. There are well-marked escape trails just for this reason. One also needs to wear appropriate footwear for the rugged and slippery conditions.

We relunctantly left and headed back towards home. We had spotted the perfect restaurant for lunch on the way out; a picturesque brick-red building on a small bay in the middle of nowhere. It is called Breaker’s Café and the bill announces the address as Jordan River (about a one hour drive from Sooke). We arrived about 3:00, fearing it might be closed. But we were in luck, although we had the place to ourselves. I’m sure it is busy during the regular season because it is very well maintained and was the best restaurant meal we had on our trip. Everything was topnotch, from the homemade ice tea to the best clam chowder and oyster burger I’ve ever had. While waiting for our food, we enjoyed watching a couple of tugboats taking a large logboom out of the bay and no doubt off to some nearby sawmill. Lunch for four (4 entrees, 4 drinks, one shared appetizer of mussels, and one shared decadent caramel pecan pie) came to $57. The ladies’ WC also made my all-time top 3 list of very cool washrooms!

The next day, my girlfriend and I went shopping for groceries and fresh crab from the Sydney wharf in preparation for our much-anticipated trip up to the Cowichan Valley......
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Old Oct 30th, 2005, 03:12 PM
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Thank you very much for the detailed report, bmacdon. I read every word with great interest. I look forward to future installments as and when you have time.
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Old Nov 6th, 2005, 11:48 AM
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Hi Judy_in_Calgary. Thank you for your interest and patience. This is my first ever trip report and I’m discovering my writing style definitely requires time and patience. At this rate, I might be done by Christmas!..........

Sat, Sept 24
We left Sydney early enough to check in to our B&B (Pebbled Shores) on Cowichan Bay and then cycle to a couple of wineries. Our first stop was Cherry Point. This winery, established in 1990, is now the second largest on the island, and in May of 2005 joined the BC Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA). It was recently purchased by a subsidiary of the Cowichan Tribes and focuses on natural growing methods, followed by simple processing techniques. Most impressive were their 2004 award winning Gewurtztraminer and a rich, sweet Blackberry Port which we have been enjoying on desserts, pancakes, etc. Unfortunately, their self-guided tour was not yet available during our visit and we had missed the last guided tour. So, we pressed on to our next destination; Merridale Cider House, about a 45 minute cycle. Here, they grow and produce 8 different styles of cider, as well as a vinegar and juice, again using nearly organic methods. We enjoyed their very informative self-guided tour, followed by an excellent tasting experience with knowledgeable and friendly staff. Our favorite was a 19% alc/vol Winter Apple Cider (similar to an ice wine) which we plan to savor by a crackling fire on cold winter days to come!

Our return trip to the B&B was slowed down by the weight of our purchases, but promises of our sumptuous crab and wine feast to follow spurred us on. It was indeed a wonderful evening in a gorgeous setting. A late evening walk along the beach helped to settle full bellies and needless to say, we all slept like babies that night.

Our second day started with one of the most amazing breakfasts I have ever experienced in the dining room of our hosts, overlooking the bay. I cannot say enough about this B&B, everything is top notch; the setting, the grounds, the accommodations, the food and last but not least, our hosts Gloria and Colin.

I am including the following link to my review on another website for anyone who wishes further details:

Cowichan Bay: Pebbled Beach Bed and Breakfast - Traveler Reviews - A cut above the rest - TripAdvisor

We had lunch reservations that day at Zanatta Winery, about a one hour bike ride. We were served a sumptuous feast on the verandah, surrounded by their soon-to-be-harvested vineyards and the scenic rugged mountains of the Cowichan Valley. It felt like a slice of heaven on earth!

We also had a good chuckle as we arrived and were securing our bikes next to a very ornate, very white Rolls-Royce limo. We ended up sitting beside the group who had arrived in the limo; picture Rodeo Drive attire vs. Mountain Equipment Coop bike shorts!.........

After the requisite wine tasting and a quick tour of said vineyards; we bid a fond farewell to our friends who were in a hurry to return home to their son who had come down with the flu. As the afternoon was waning, we too decided to head back to our home base . We chose the scenic route which took us through the centre of Duncan (the City of Totems), then out towards the coast and through the scenic waterfront village of Cowichan Bay. A fond memory comes to mind of stopping for a snack of blackberries and hearing the haunting chanting and drumming of a native pow-wow in the distance.

A few notes of information for anyone who may be considering a similar cycle tour. The terrain is very winding and hilly, I would probably rate it for intermediate levels of experience and fitness. The roads are mostly 2-lane secondary type with no shoulders; however, traffic is not heavy (bearing in mind that this was late Sept) and motorists were generally respectful of our boundaries. The wineries are located on both sides of the Trans Canada Highway, and there are several major lighted intersections where one can safely cross.

The following day we decided to stash our bikes and give our aching calves and other sore body parts a rest. We tried not to feel too guilty as we gingerly climbed up into the cab of our truck……… We headed back to the area around Zanatta and drove further on down the road in search of two more wineries. As it turned out, it was a good thing we hadn’t gone there on our bikes the day previously as we had originally intended. The road deteriorated from paved to gravel which would not have been terribly compatible with our friend’s brand new $5000 yellow Italian road bike with racing tires (his “baby”). In addition, the furthest winery was inexplicably closed (perhaps due to harvest time?.......)

But we did eventually make it to Godfrey-Brownell which turned out to be our best winery experience! In stark contrast to the more slick and upscale glamour of say Cherry Point or Merridale; G-B is a smaller, seemingly less organized operation. Only one-third of its land is devoted to wine production, the remainder is mixed farming and second-growth forest, so physically it has a much different feel than many vineyards.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the owner himself (Dave Godfey). He is obviously a hands-on owner and was dressed for the job in gumboots and well-stained work clothes. He first directed us to watch 3 of his staff who were in the process of pressing a small crop of grapes that had just come in from the fields (about 200 pounds) in an ancient looking hand press. After much fiddling with stubborn parts, the juices began to flow and we were offered a glass. What a rich, silty experience that was! We could literally taste the richness of the earth still clinging to the unfiltered extract and better understand the essence of what is best described by that elusive term “terroir”.

We then drifted to the nearby patio where lunch is served and the tasting bar is located. Again, Dave was the man in charge. In between offering us samples and answering our questions, he was serving lunch to another group, setting up a photo shoot with a local reporter, and directing his staff in their various endeavors. We also discovered one can actually go out in the vineyard and pick grapes in exchange for bottles of his wine. How cool is that! Something to do on our next trip perhaps…….. But for this time, we charged it to the VISA and departed, feeling as if we had acquired a more intimate understanding of what we ultimately enjoy when we open a bottle of wine.

We spent the rest of the day exploring downtown Cowichan Bay and Duncan; then headed to our B&B. This being day 10 of our trip, we spent the evening doing laundry (so wonderful to have the machines in our cottage!), and packing for our departure in the morning.

With rich memories of our glorious week on Vancouver Island, we prepared to head back to the mainland……..
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Old Nov 6th, 2005, 01:42 PM
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Hmmmm ...... That winter apple cider sounds interesting.

I also read your TripAdvisor review of Pebbled Beach B&B. Another good piece of information to tuck away for future reference.
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