A week exploring Vancouver Island, British Columbia

This post is Part 2 of our cross-Canada trip from Ontario to British Columbia. Part 1 covers our first 17 days, in which we drove across the country and camped as we went. Part 3 covers highlights of all the vegan restaurants we tried on our travels!

Day 17: Goldstream Provincial Park to Nanaimo (99 km / 1.25 hours)

After leaving Goldstream Provincial Park – and our last campsite of the trip – we headed north for Nanaimo.

We found a great little park along the harbour in Nanaimo to have a picnic lunch, Maffeo Sutton Park. We were pleasantly surprised to discover some beautiful purple star fish! The park has walking paths, fantastic playgrounds for kids, and a small (rocky) beach area.

Star fish

We also explored a used bookstore in town, coming away with a few books.

Next we headed to the small town of Parksville to swim at Parksville beach (along the Straight of Georgia, an arm of the Salish Sea), at the recommendation of my cousin Julie. We were a little surprised to discover that it was a rocky beach rather than a sandy one, but we had fun swimming, checking out all the snails and looking for fish. There’s a playground and splash pad for kids, a skate park and lots of beach volleyball courts too.

Day 18: Nanaimo

In hopes of seeing some marine wildlife, like sea lions, seals or whales, we headed to the Cable Bay Nature Trail (also on the Straight of Georgia) to go for a walk along the water. We spent some time at Dodd Narrows, having read that seals could often be seen playing in the rapids. We never did see any sea creatures, just a Great blue heron at the water’s edge. I also spotted what turned out to be a Pacific banana slug on the hiking trail, as well as a few woodpeckers in trees.

Pacific banana slug

We’ll remember Dodd Narrows for the logging tug boat (the “David J”) that seemingly did a super fast 180 degree turn for our benefit as it went through this narrow space, and for the man in a tiny fishing boat who needed help from people on the far shore to rescue what looked like a wayward seat cushion floating away. We spotted it before we saw him zooming around the corner, and then he clearly caught sight of it! We watched – fascinated – as he approached the cushion, but it was circling in an eddy by then, unreachable to him in his little boat, so he yelled instructions to a couple of girls on shore who were only too happy to throw it out to him… he chased it, grabbed it, pulled it into his boat and the 8 people who witnessed the feat – including us – cheered (for the cushion? for the man? for a happy ending!)!

The David J.

We hiked back to our car, and then went for a very late vegan lunch at Eve Olive. When we noticed Nanaimo bars on the dessert menu, we knew we had to have one! When in Nanaimo… It was good, but not nearly as good as my homemade ones! And for me, sprinkles definitely do not belong!

We had so much fun swimming the day before that we headed back to Parksville Beach. It was then we realized we had been there at high tide the day before – the water was way out this time, so there was lots of sand (and shallow water a long way out)! We kept our eyes on our towels though, because the tide was coming in and we didn’t want them to get soaked.

The most natural of all necklaces.

Day 19: Nanaimo to Port Alberni

We had been told by multiple people that we had to visit the old growth forest at Cathedral Grove, so on our way from Nanaimo to Port Alberni we stopped to check it out. The trees were indeed impressive – 800 year old Douglas-fir trees, as well as old Western red cedars, and Big leaf maples. The biggest Douglas-fir there is over 76 m tall with a circumference of 9 m. We did the short walking trails on both sides of the highway.

Ailish at 5’7″ for comparison!

We had hoped to have a picnic lunch in Port Alberni somewhere we could swim, but the only park we found on the water didn’t have great swimming options. We debated driving 40 minutes south to Qualicum Beach, which wouldn’t be quite as far as going all the way back to Parksville Beach, but then we decided to just drive 2 hours to Tofino instead! We already had plans to spend the next day in Tofino, but we figured why not go twice (unfortunately, we weren’t able to find accommodations in Tofino by the time our trip was finalized – Port Alberni was the closest we could get).

So, off to Tofino we went! We were fortunate to see a Steller jay when we arrived – a first for us.

Silly us, we thought we’d be able to swim in the Pacific Ocean at Pacific Rim National Park. But as we drove there, we watched the thermometer drop, and drop, and drop. By the time we arrived it was less than 15 degrees C, and oh boy was the water ever cold!

Pacific Rim National Park

But Alasdair and I were determined to swim. The waves were pretty big, and the water so cold that we weren’t sure we’d actually submerse ourselves. Everyone else in the water – a dozen or so surfers – were all wearing neoprene wetsuits. Someone called Alasdair brave. We ended up playing in the waves, riding them in, but we didn’t really “swim” and we didn’t last too long! It was fun though!

Alasdair and Ailish built a small shelter out of driftwood so we could spend time on the beach protected from the wind and blowing sand. And then we headed back to Port Alberni.

Day 20: Tofino

In the morning we headed back to Tofino. We stopped at Pacific Rim National Park again to explore the shoreline at a couple of different beaches, and in doing so found some cool things, like shells, Sea anemones, and Tidepool sculpins (fish)!

Spot the fox’s head!

We had reserved rental bikes at Tofino Bike Co, so we headed there next.

The “Cruisers” were not like bikes we are used to – on these single speed bikes you sit in a very upright position, and you brake with your feet (like when we were kids). They took some getting used to. We rode a paved path into Tofino, and then cruised around town a bit. We locked our bikes together and followed a path to Tonquin beach, where we had a picnic lunch.

Stairs to Tonquin beach

From there we got onto the Tonquin Trail Network, and then headed to Mackenzie beach before it was time to return our bikes.

Bears! Cougars! Wolves! Good thing I took a picture of this sign instead of reading it.
Pretty scenic cycling spot – Mackenzie beach, Tofino.

After returning our bikes, we headed to Bravocados for a delicious vegan dinner!

Day 21: Port Alberni to Victoria

We left Port Alberni and headed south for Victoria, where we would spend our last few days. We stopped in Ladysmith for an amazing vegan lunch at Plantitude. This quickly became my favourite vegan restaurant, with a cute patio and delicious food.

Flatbread with pesto, red onions, cashew cheese, arugula and a maple balsamic glaze.

We settled into our last Airbnb, this one in Saanich, quite close to Mount Douglas Park, and not far from the University of Victoria, the reason we set off for British Columbia in the first place!

Just a White-tailed deer hanging out, as they do in Victoria.

Day 22: Victoria

This would be our last full day with Ailish before the big move! We headed downtown Victoria to wander around. We talked to a man with an emotional support cat – that sadly had no interest in us. Eventually we ended up at Virtuous Pie for a vegan lunch with Alasdair’s former student Connor, now a PhD student at UBC, and his girlfriend. We gave them our leftover MSR fuel, since we couldn’t fly home with it!

We did some last minute shopping for university supplies, and final packing for the move. I was incredibly relieved that none of Ailish’s things had been stolen from the car as we crossed the country. It made me nervous to leave all her prized possessions in the vehicle (except her electronic devices, which we always had with us except when we were swimming). I was most worried when we were camping, because when we stayed in Airbnbs we took everything out of the vehicle.

We went for one last walk to a beach.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Day 23: Victoria

After a vegan pancake breakfast at Fern Cafe and Bakery, we moved Ailish’s stuff into UVic, had lunch with her on campus, and then after helping unpack most of her things, we walked away! Probably because we left her with a friend, there were no tears. But after being in such close quarters for 23 days, it was weird, very weird!

Home, sweet home.

Alasdair and I went to return the car to the rental place, and decided to walk the 8k back to our Airbnb. Once we got there, we changed and headed out for runs. We both ran at Mount Douglas Park, but I chose to stay on easier trails and to make one last stop at the ocean’s edge. Alasdair ran toward the peak.

Mount Douglas Beach, Mount Douglas Park

We packed all our stuff, including our camping gear, into 4 duffle bags. We offered our leftover food, matches and a few odds and ends to our Airbnb hosts, who were happy to keep everything out of the compost and landfill.

Day 24: Victoria to Hamilton, Ontario

On our last day we got our steps in by walking back and forth on the sidewalk outside our Airbnb while waiting for our taxi to arrive (our host came out to comment on how active we were!). Once we arrived at the Victoria airport we checked our luggage and then went for a walk outside, where we had fun trying to photograph some very shy birds (protective of all the babies) – turns out they were California quail.

And then before we knew it, we were home… to a very quiet house!

Vancouver Island, we will be back!

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