We have a week and a half to explore close to home. Often our trips take us across the world. This time, we don’t need to content with carry-on luggage or airports. We simply load up the car and leave home.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, we are close to some of the world’s most beautiful natural areas. We have seen much of it but have never been to northern Vancouver Island.
Most visitors come to the large island, about the size of The Netherlands, to visit Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. And while this is a gorgeous, friendly city with lots to do, the island has so much more to offer. On a previous trip we took our Westfalia camper through Victoria to Sooke and around the southern tip of the island to Port Renfrew and back to Cowichan. On this trip we saw stately rain forests, bears and isolated beaches.
We’ve driven through Port Alberni across the island from east to west to visit the small, quaint towns of Ucuelet and Tofino on the breathtaking west coast where surfers roam white beaches and hippies inhabit the coffee shops in town.
Qualicum First Nations Campsite
But this time, we drive north through Nanaimo and Qualicum to our first camping spot on the shore of the Salish Sea: the Qualicum First Nations Campground. This beautiful piece of land along the east coast of Vancouver Island offers many RV sites right along the water. Each site had water and a picnic table, several had sewer service. There were no toilet buildings but a few very clean, odourless port-a-potties did the job. We enjoyed staring over the water and listening to the waves as we fell asleep in our tent.
Only on the islands…
The next morning we packed up and drove north to the ferry to Denman and Hornby Islands. I hadn’t, until then, realized that you need to go to Denman first to get to Hornby. The brand new cable ferry ride took about 20 minutes. The fee of around 40.- was for two people and a car and allows us to stay on either island for as long we like, return fare included.
We decided to work our way back and scooted straight across Denman to Hornby. There we were surprised to find much still closed, even on the last day of May. The pub/restaurant by the ferry landing was closed. The bookstore was closed. And several signs along the way said ‘closed’. We drove several of the few roads on the island and liked what we saw: pastoral farms, very green, forests of tall evergreens and ferns. We found an eclectic cluster of Coop store, coffee shop, craft and clothing shops.
The detailed (free) island map showed a B & B, which did not seem to exist in reality. But a resort which, according to its website, was closed turned out to be open. Moral: don’t believe it until you see it.
The resort where we ended up staying two nights because it was so wonderful, is called Sea Breeze: http://www.seabreezelodge.com.
It offers spacious cottages right along the coast line. We sit on our porch in adirondack chairs to sip our morning coffee. The cottages are very private. Ours has a kitchen and fireplace. At $145.- this was not cheap but the kitchen allowed us to make all of our own meals, which made it the same or less expensive than a B & B room plus having to eat out.
There’s even a very good hot tub to soak in. And on the blustery nights we spent here, we sure enjoyed the fireplace.
We managed to go for a wonderful hike during the only time it rained while we were on Hornby. We did the return Ford Cove to Shingle Spit Trail, about 2.5 KM one way. Gorgeous setting, relatively level and a well maintained trail along the coast, amid towering cedars, ferns and gleaming arbutus. Nice to spot lots of fossil rocks along the way. But no cafe, no patio, no pub on either side. Just a marina at Ford Cove with a little store.
From Horny we drove back to Denman, which is apparently nicknamed ‘Hornby’s speed bump’ since most visitors race across it to reach the ferry to Hornby. To us Denman did indeed seem less attractive. Many of its roads were unpaved and we saw a plethora of signs telling us to “keep out” and “no trespassing”. There were not many services on the island – we did’t find a patio on the water, nor a cute little pub. We did discover a very good coffee shop, well hidden inside the local hardware store! In the back, a secret garden with brand new adirondack chairs invited us to linger. The bookstore next door was open and well stocked with good titles.
A 15 minute ferry ride took us back to the main island and we drove north to Comox, where we had booked a perfect AirBnB: the ground floor of a brand new house. A small living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom offered luxurious bedding and towels and everything we needed in a kitchen including muffins, fruit and coffee. For 75.- this was a perfect find and highly recommended.
Next blog: Port Hardy, Alert Bay and Telegraph Cove