Exploring Southern Vancouver Island, BC
August 13th, 2020
We are free! We left D’Arcy’s around 9 am ran a couple of errands and then went to North Saanich (north of the Victoria airport) to have a visit with our Kiwi friends, Marg & Claude. They used to live across the street from us in Burnaby, back in the 90’s and we actually visited with them in 1999 when they returned to NZ for a couple of years before becoming permanent residents and then citizens of Canada. Claude is now an RCMP officer and they recently moved to the island after many years in the Lower Mainland (Vancouver area).
It was a pleasant afternoon sitting outside, responsibly distanced and we enjoyed sandwiches around lunchtime.
Next we went to visit a high school friend, Kerry, and her husband, Phil in Victoria. They invited us to dinner and Phil cooked a wonderful meal which we ate sitting on their deck.
We returned to D’Arcy’s for the night, because as in most cities, there are few options for free camping. Friday after morning stuff, we made our way to Byron’s for a short visit as he wanted some help with a solar panel & battery set up. Then we pushed on further west to Sooke – where we went to high school and met.
First stop was to Whiffin Spit Park where the bench in remembrance of Fran’s father is still located:
It was a beautiful slightly cool day and we enjoyed the view from the bench for a while.
We had a visit set up with a number of Doug’s high school friends at one of their houses for a couple of hours later that afternoon. We all chatted and caught up. (We are out of our travel routine and forgot to take pictures at all these visits!)
One of them invited us to park at their place that night if nothing else panned out in Sooke.
Since tomorrow is Doug’s 60th birthday, we went out for dinner. Back in the day when we lived in this area and Doug worked weekends at the grocery store, Fran used to meet him every Sunday for lunch at Mom’s Café so that’s where we went for dinner.
It was delicious and the place looks pretty much the same. We’d heard it went downhill a couple of years but it’s under new ownership and they have upped their game. We sat outside on the patio and it was very nice. After a short walk around the block, we looked for a place to camp.
Finding nothing a sure thing, we made our way to Cheri’s place. She, her husband and sister, own two lots outside of the town itself and had plenty of room for us to park. She dropped by to say hello in the evening when we got home and we saw her briefly in the morning before we left.
Saturday began with Doug opening his birthday presents
As we did not have plans until 4pm so we set out to find free internet which we did parked outside the public library.
The days have been sunny with completely blue skies here in “sunny Sooke” warming up slowly to more normal summer temperatures in the mid 20’s C / upper 70’s F.
We arrived at Doug’s high school friend, Steve’s in the late afternoon. Steve is also turning 60 today so we brought a cake to celebrate with him and his wife, Laura.
We had a nice visit and then left to find a wild camp a little further west. We got to Gordon’s Beach and there were a few small road side pullouts/parking spots and we nabbed one. It sadly didn’t offer a view of the beach itself, but we did walk the ten metres down to it and had a beer sitting on a log.
We saw our first Pacific Ocean sunset in a long time while sitting here:
Next morning we continued making stops at Jordan River:
Sombrio Beach where we hiked to “hidden falls”.
Tried to do a hike at Botanical Beach but the trails were closed due to a “problem bear”.
We ended our day at Avator Forest to see Canada’s Gnarliest Tree:
We drove up the road another 300m and found a large pullout to spend the night.
Monday we began the second half of the looping heading eastward stopping at Fairy Lake:
Then Harris Spruce Tree
Honeymoon Bay outside Lake Cowichan
Next was Duncan where we stopped for breakfast and decide since we only had one more stop, we’d head back to Victoria after it.
That last stop was Kinslo Trestle where we hiked one kilometre to the actual trestle:
This was just past Shawinigan Lake and then we returned southward to Victoria back to D’Arcy’s driveway. We had a nice happy hour with him and called it a day.
Tuesday was like a free day, so in the morning D’Arcy invited us to check out his current job site which was less than ten minutes away; he has a construction company and has been working on the same house (among other smaller jobs) for the past year with several months still to go.
We then drove into Victoria, parked near Chinatown for free and checked out:
Fan Tan Alley (which was closed – it is Canada’s narrowest street and was probably closed due to COVID so people would not be in close quarters.)
The new Johnson Street Bridge (at completion it was $100 million over budget!)
We wandered over to the inner harbour where we of course saw the Empress Hotel and the Legislative Buildings.
We strolled back to the car via the main “drag” Douglas Street where we passed The Crystal Garden – where we’d had our wedding pictures taken back in 1981:
We then drove down towards the city’s premier park called Beacon Hill. There we drove past Emily Carr’s house/museum but the hedges are so tall you cannot see it really; after which we parked along the park and went in search of the sculpture called the “moss Lady” before taking a short drive thru the park and allow Dallas Road which is the sea side street.
We began our drive back to D’Arcy’s after trying to see Craigdaroch Castle but there was no parking and you only get a side view from the street.
We parked and got Tigger ready for the electrician who was coming at 4:30 (giving him access to the back the power converter and other cupboards where wires ran.
Kevin showed up early and diagnosed three issues over two hours; all of which he fixed! First issue was that the RV’s plug was wired backwards (Doug replaced it a few years back and although it’s been working, it was not working properly); secondly the where the microwave plugs in, there were two screws touching the outside of the box and; thirdly the 110 plus to the fridge was disconnected. So….now we are hooked up to power at D’Arcy’s and we should not longer get shocks when Tigger is wet! Huge win for us and we are grateful to D’Arcy and Kevin for fixing these issues.
That night we went to visit our old friends, Ted & Trish for a couple of hours where Trish served up slices of birthday cake for Doug.
Wednesday we were up early as we had an 8am appointment for an alignment and it was located out by the airport. They took us a little early (as they open at 7) but discovered some parts were need as the truck needed ball joints etc. Naturally, they don’t car those so they will order and Fran will bring Tigger back tomorrow morning at 8am.
So we drove to the ferry terminal and Fran dropped off Doug to go to mainland to have a couple of visits with his mom. Here in BC senior places are open subject to appointments. Where Fran’s mom is out in Ontario, you need a recent COVID negative test and can only visit once a week.
Speaking of COVID, here in this province, the lockdown was early and strong so the numbers have been low. However, we have noticed that people on the Island, anyway, seem a little too complacent and masks are rare. There are signs on shop doors but they are not enforced; there are 2m limit signs all over but again not enforced. The weird thing it’s not just the young people not abiding; there are lot of seniors doing the same. The government has not mandated masks provincially but this past weekend they were mandated on all public transit and as there were 236 new cases over the weekend, this could change. When we were on our little “circle tour” we rarely saw a mask on the trails or beaches and walking single file by others was rare. Hope this doesn’t lead to a new surge!
As we have South Dakota plates, we were a little anxious about the reaction of people here in BC; we’d heard about American and out of province plated vehicles being vandalized as the locals would prefer outsides not be here. Unfortunately, they are doing these things without knowing where someone from out of province might in fact be here legally (there have been a few Americans who crossed the border into Canada claiming to be enroute to Alaska but have been found way off route – the CDN government has since implemented new rules in this regard.) Our friend Byron, gave us an old BC plate to “add: beneath our SD plates:
To avoid making Fran wait hours till Doug caught the ferry he decided to see if he could get his rental car earlier. Owner said yes so he got on the 10 am ferry. 10 minutes later owner said actually couldn’t make it. So he got lots of steps, while waiting. He got the car at 2:45, drove to, then around New Westminster looking for free parking.
He then got more steps while waiting for his buddy, Pete, to get home. They went to Subway for dinner and spent the evening catching up.
Fran returned to the city after dropping Doug off and made her way to get a haircut – her first since December. She had to make the appointment online, check in online, and then show up within five minutes of her appointment time (the app constantly updates you on the wait time) and actually check in. Each station is cleaned between clients and everyone wears a mask; no hair washing or blow drying takes place.
She ran a couple more errands and then returned to D’Arcy’s for the rest of the day and that night.
Thursday she returned to the garage at 7:45 (Doug thought appointment was for 8) but it turned out we were scheduled for 9 but no point going anywhere else at this point. She was also told it would take about 5 hours for the work – this place is in Sidney, over 20 km from D’Arcy’s so she didn’t have a lot of options for going elsewhere so she stuck it out. Instead of walking 10K steps today, she did 23K.
The truck was finally done at 4:30 and upon paying the bill (not a small bill either) she returned again to D’Arcy’s. Fran was in a good amount of ChickV pain today – the rain makes it worse and it threatened most of the day with on and off sprinkles. Supposed to last through tomorrow so hopefully by Saturday she’ll feel some relief.
Thursday he spent the morning walking, meditating, etc. before picking up lunch for his mother. They dined with outside at her care home, in the rain, 6 feet from the steel bars which she was behind. She was delighted with the puzzle we’d had made for her with four photographs but she tired after less than an hour.
Doug then went to the Quay to meet a high school friend, Margaret Ann and her husband Ed. They went to the Paddle Wheeler Pub and chatted for two hours. Great people. They’d like to get together again when we come to the mainland. He then returned to Pete’s place and chilled till he got home.
Friday he arranged to return the car early then went to exercise, meditate, get lunch for his mom again before catching the ferry. Fran did a few chores and errands and then went to pick up Doug at the ferry terminal.
That night D’Arcy’s hot tub was up and running; as he was going out, he offered it up for our use that night. It felt pretty darn good on the joints, let us tell you!
Saturday morning, Doug helped D’Arcy get some gravel from Byron’s home
Then we all attended a fun barbeque party at Byron’s home. Our high school friends, Bill (and his son) and Randy joined us. Sharon and Byron prepared bbq’d ribs, seafood stuff baked potatoes, lots of salad and a roasted pineapple marinaded in Fireball for dessert.
Some of us had shots of the left over marinade:
And we all had a great time reminiscing and catching up. Thanks so much Byron and Sharon.
Sunday morning we joined Doug’s sister, Dana and her husband at the Esquimalt Lagoon to catch up for a couple of hours. On our way “home” we stopped at Royal Roads and checked out Hatley Castle – the site of many movies including Deadpool and other Marvel movies.
We hung out at D’Arcy’s in the afternoon and Byron dropped by to take Doug out for a bit. As it was going to be our last night parked here, we ordered pizza, provided beer and D’Arcy got a strawberry rhubarb pie for desert. We then all enjoyed a soak in the hot tub. We so appreciate D’Arcy’s hospitality and will never forget it.
Monday morning we awoke to sunshine was shining once again and we finally left Victoria. Our first stop today was in Crofton to catch up with another high school pal, Stephanie. She showed us around her home and town and we all sat on the deck at the Brass Bell pub for lunch before we headed a little further up the road to the mural capital of Canada: Chemainus.
Here we got a copy of a walking tour map of the town and set out to see the sites:
Fun facts about Chemainus:
- Chemainus is considered to be the largest outdoor gallery in Canada
- The Chemainus Theatre presents live professional theatre year round and is a “destination” on the island for entertainment
- There are 55 murals in all
- There are 9 statues around town
- Some of the trees in Askew park are 500 years old!
- You can walk the route following the yellow “footsteps” on the street
- The first murals appeared in 1982; as the logging mill was closing, this gave the town some economic diversity bringing in tourism
We found a place to park for the night at the little lake outside town and enjoyed a quiet dark night alone.
That afternoon we had our first ‘encounter’ with Islanders who don’t want strangers on “their island”. We were sitting in Tigger chatting when we saw two women come from the trail around the lake to get into their car. They saw our licence plate and made a few comments and made a gesture as if to key our vehicle saying out loud “go home”. So Fran piped up “we are canadian”. She was very, very apologetic and embarrassed saying she was just kidding. We suspect she was but it was still so “un Canadian” until she kept saying “I’m sorry”.
Tuesday we had a plan to check out a few places in and around Nanaimo. Unfortunately, it was not to be; either the sites were under renovation, couldn’t be found or were too far of an uphill hike (today we are both suffering stiff joints). So it was a bust especially after we tried to find the tourist office of which there were supposed to be three and we could not find the first two and gave up.
The only place that panned out was Piper’s Lagoon – a small lagoon, lookout north of the ferry terminal:
We thought we’d head to Doug’s brother David’s house in Parksville but enroute we realized we were passing through Nanoose Bay and Doug’s brother, Dennis, lives there. (somehow we thought Nanoose Bay was the other side of Parksville). So we had the wrong address but managed to find Dennis’ house. His wife, Zenobia, was there and welcomed us into the driveway, we chatted a bit and then we got set up when she left to do some work. Dennis is supposed to be home around 4:30. So we’ll spend the night here.
After Dennis got home for work, we all went inside and chatted while making dinner; we provided a huge sweet kale salad and some bread and Zenobia made a green salad, coconut prawns and fries. All was quite good. Their daughter, Madison and her friend Kenya joined us as well for dinner.
We played a game called Caton after dinner that we’d never heard of but called it quits at 9:30 to hit the hay.
Wednesday morning after showering, we left and made our way westward across the island. We had a much more successful start to our day when it came to sight seeing and the sunny weather continued to hold.
First stop was Englishman River Falls:
Then we stopped at Billy Gruff Creamery where we observed goats on the roof feeding!
We had to check out the ice cream parlour and at ten in the morning we indulged in ice cream cones!
Then Doug had to check out the donut shop where we experimented buying a mystery box of 6 day old donuts.
We moved on to the Folk Art Farm at Whiskey Creek (a place we’d read about on Atlas Obscura). We parked and wandered onto the property when we found the sign:
In about two minutes, we heard someone speak and it turned out to be some of the renters on the property. They rent from the artists son, who lives up island – the artist passed away several years ago. They claimed it was no longer open to the public but after we introcuded ourselves and they did the same. Then they informed us they were “insulted” that we were wearing masks in their presence. We knew that was our cue to hit the road.
We drove to Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park and did the short hike out to the Upper Falls. Doug’s knees and ankles were quite sore today so he asked someone which falls were better: the upper or lower? He was told the lower was really just a log jam so that made our decision.
Next stop was some petroglyphs but the road access to it was closed; that was followed by a forestry lookout point that didn’t pan out either as the road only went so far then apparently got quite bad and didn’t feel like walking that type of surface either.
We hoped to check out the famous Cathedral Grove but it was CLOSED due to COVID; very disappointing.
Our final stop today was a rest area at Taylor Arm (Dennis’ daughter, Madison, had been there yesterday and showed us photos) and it turned out to be an overnight spot on iOverlander! It’s far enough from the highway to not really hear it, has bathrooms, river access and free good Wi-Fi! We couldn’t ask for much more.
Before parking, we gotten two check engine lights in the last 20 km so we used our diagnostic tool and learned it was the mass air flow sensor or filter. So after parking, Doug popped the hood and lo and behold that darn thing he had drilled screws into last year to stop the thing from popping off on the right side, was now popped off on the left side into the box that holds the filter. When he opened the box, he also found the filter off! So it took a good hour to get that all sorted out.
Just as we finished a truck and trailer pulled up with an older gentleman who was also an overlander and had lived in Brazil. We swapped stories with him for a bit and heard his sad tale of what happened to his family a few years ago in Brazil but he hopes to go back.
Paul turned his gennie on at this point and we took our chairs and went over to sit by the river to read.
When we were done, it was still running, so we moved just outside the parked rest area on a dirt road where we could still reach the Wi-Fi and spent the night there.
Thursday brought a sunny morning inland but as we drove towards the coast the fog set in.
We spotted sign that said “Giant Cedar” so we pulled over to check it out – the trail was a bit confusing but we finally found and it was nothing spectacular.
We parked in Ucluelet and went for a walk around the village:
The fog was beginning to lift but not a great deal by the time we did the Amphitrite Lighthouse hike:
Since we wanted to spend some time on Long Beach but the fog was still not fully dissipated by noon, we stopped on a side road for breakfast and then made our way to the other end of the peninsula to Tofino where again we took a walk around town:
The sun was out in full force here in this pretty touristy town. There were signs all over town about no camping on the streets and on our way back towards Long Beach we stopped at the Visitor’s Centre to inquire were it was legal to park overnight; apparently nowhere. All the campgrounds were full we were told and there were two possibilities nearer Ucluelet. We had a wild camp already in mind in that area if nothing had panned out (we found on iOverlander). Enroute there we stopped at the main Long Beach parking area to check it out. We’ll need to park in the sun tomorrow so the plan is to get here in the morning and spend the day. It’s supposed to be partly sunny tomorrow and cloudy over the weekend so it’s our best shot as right now the lot was full!
We got ourselves parked and sat outside in the sun to read for the rest of the afternoon. About ten pm the traffic really died down and we actually slept pretty well. About four other camper vehicles joined us at that lot.
We made our way back towards Tofino early (before 8) so we could snag a good parking spot in the sun for Tigger. We set out on the beach and walk north a bit then returned south for quite a ways – we were almost alone that early. Fran enjoyed going barefoot but paid for it with a big blister on the heel of her left foot.
We grabbed our chairs and kindles from the rig and went to sit on the beach. There were not many people when we got back but the numbers increased as the day went on – so many surfers in wet suits as the water is quite cold. We didn’t think the waves were that great so there were a lot of them just waiting….A few kites came out and several kids playing in the sand. At one point there had to be 60 surfers in the frigid water (all in wetsuits of course) but catching that elusive wave was a rarity.
We returned to Tigger of our late breakfast just as it was getting cooler – a light wind had begun and it had a chilly bite. After a bit Doug went to get warmer clothes on and grabbed Fran a jacket to put over her legs as they were getting too much sun. People around us were in bathing suits! It was maybe 18 C / 64F and mostly sunny but as the afternoon wore on the clouds developed and we decided to leave around 2pm when the sun was hidden. Tigger’s solar panels had reached 100% and we were happy.
We drove down highway some to check out the south end of Long Beach at Wickenish Beach. We snagged the last parking spot and wandered to the beach. It was warmer here as there was virtually no wind and there were fewer people but the sun was still behind the clouds so we decided to return to the rest area we slept at two nights ago and get some free Wi-Fi.
We heard from Doug’s sister in law, Carol, that they were away until Sunday so we decided to park here another night. We met another actual overlander who’d spent a great deal of time in Brazil but his time was quite sad. There was also a fellow travelling in a camper truck who’d been doing so for a few years with his dog and cat.
Many people stop here, especially young ones, to swim in the beautiful river so during the day we had a lot of company but never that noisy. First night there were 13 vehicles in the rest area but pretty spread out.
Next day we decided to stay and chill. Doug managed to go out and get in a good run – his first in two months as he was pretty pain free so he was ecstatic. Fran took it easy on her new blister and we enjoyed the day sitting in the sun reading.
Sunday we packed up and went to try and visit a friend who has an organic farm but the road was closed so we rearranged for Monday and couldn’t resist another stop at Billy Gruff for some breakfast ice cream.
We moved on to Parksville to visit Doug’s brother, David and his wife, Carole. Their eldest daughter, Eva Marie, still lives at home so we got to see her as well. David made us cookies to go and cooked a roast for dinner. It began raining in the late afternoon so we had a wet walk to meet their son, Will and his wife, Karyssa, down by the waterfront.
They were running late and we were getting wet so we rearranged that visit for the nearby Dairy Queen where we finished off our day with ice cream while visiting with them. Went spent the night in Dave’s driveway and after showering in the morning we said our good byes and made our way to Kathy’s organic farm.
The day was a little grey to start but it looked like it would clear up. We made our way in a roundabout due to the earlier road closure to our friend, Kathy’s place outside Qualicum Beach. She and her partner, Wolfgang, run a small organic farm with five greenhouses. She sells at the farmer’s markets on Wednesday and Saturdays in town and they seem happy but very busy this time of year.
Wolfgang is a German horticulturist and they have lots of various veggies, fruits and plants including a banana tree!
We spent the day and that night with them. We enjoyed a lovely lunch on their deck and they killed a chicken for dinner that was very tasty. We had a quiet night and after a hot shower and a tea break with them, we made out way to the beachfront in Qualicum Beach. There were motorhomes parked along the beach walk and we joined them for the day and night.
Today the RCMP came after receiving a call “about an American vehicle in town”. She firstly told us that having both a BC plate and a SD plate was illegal (especially because the BC plate was expired and not our own!) and then after confirming ID and title, asked a few questions and insisted we remove the BC or she would “remove it for us” which probably meant ripping it off with our own valid plate. Doug got some tools, removed it an handed it over.
There were motorhomes parked along the beach walk and we joined them for the day and night despite the no camping/overnight parking signs as we’d been told and read that it was not a big deal.
The tide was out when we parked and slowly made its way in.
Next morning we hung around a little too long as again, an RCMP officer, this time not in a patrol car but an unmarked car, visited us and asked the same questions (apparently the other office did not file a report) and after a bit, advised us that camping was not allow here and if we were still there tonight, we’d be towed. We stayed for a bit longer and did our walks. Fran saw two other rigs still there and went to speak with them – they of course, having BC plates, had not been hassled.
We had heard from D’Arcy that he had finally received a piece of mail we were waiting for and made a plan to meet in Parksville at the beach. He showed up early, we walked with him and Sophie for a while before going back to David’s for the night.
On the beach in Parksville:
We offered to provide dinner and David suggested fish and chips from a local restaurant, that we’d have to pick up. It was very good.
We had a quiet night, Doug went for a short run in the morning and we left after showers.
Our chikungunya after effects are slowwwwwwwly subsiding. It’s been three months now and Doug’s pop up less frequently than Frans’ but there’s definite improvement so there’s hope!