Exploring the north half of Vancouver Island
September 4th, 2020
So on Thursday morning we left Parksville for the second time and made our way up to Comox where we went to the Costco to fill up (cheapest gas on the entire island: 116.9 CAD per litre which converts to 88.68 USD which means 3.35 USD per gallon) and then do some shopping and have a cheap lunch (it’s still a buck and a half for a hot dog and a drink – same as it was went we left Canada in 2014$). Fran has a cousin who lives here but they were busy this week so hopefully when we come back down island, we can get together.
We did visit a few sites here though:
Goose Spit Park:
Seal bay – but the view point was a bust
Miracle Beach (so named because in the big fire in the Comox Valley in 1997, this was the one area not devastated):
We chatted with a couple of locals and they suggested we check out Saratoga Beach which has nicer sand but the parking was an issue for us. We stopped just to take a quick view and left.
We carried on to Campbell River where we finished our shopping and had a cold fountain drink. Fran had never been north of Courtney/Comox before (other than flying into Port Hardy and driving to Holberg one Christmas years ago).
We then met Fran’s youngest sister’s best friend, Belinda, who lives up here, at a pub for a drink in the late afternoon sitting outside, of course.
After a couple of drinks we parted made our way to a roadside pullout west of town for the night.
We awoke to another sunshiny day (supposed to be good for the next ten days!) and began the drive westward to Gold River. The road was windy but all paved.
It went through Vancouver Island’s largest provincial park, Strathcona which also has the largest lake on the island. It’s mascot is the largest elk species, the Roosevelt.
Upon arriving in Gold River, we stopped at the Visitors Centre but it was closed although the washrooms and dump station were open and we used them both. There was a large signboard showing the sites along the “Tree to Sea Drive” which we were planning to do (although didn’t know it had that name until now) next.
We made a short pass through town only stopping at a small lot with lots of wood carvings:
And then began the “Tree to Sea”:
We tried to check out each marker:
Cala Creek Falls
Drove by the Bull Lake Summit sign
Here’s the painted rock – apparently a high school grad tradition to paint this rock
Saw Conuma Peak
Drove by the hatchery – we’ve seen many and Doug has designed and built many
Somehow missed the wildlife viewing spot……
Stopped to see the Three Sisters Falls in the distance:
Saw Malaspina Lake
Couldn’t find the President’s Tree (nor did we see it on the return trip) so we managed to see most of the “sights”.
We arrived in Tahsis around 12:30, drove around town first and found a picnic area on the water where we parked for the afternoon so the solar panels could charge up. We had breaky and spent the afternoon reading and chillin’.
Apparently Captain Vancouver came here on his exploration of the Pacific coast, hence they call Tahsis – the “birthplace of BC”
For Happy Hour today we toasted Fran’s dad who passed away 18 years ago – hard to believe that much time as gone by without him.
We found a camp spot about 3 km outside Tahsis in a free recreational area – all the actual spots were full (it is Labour Day weekend now) but the area at the trailhead and toilet was quite large so we parked in there for the night. It was very quiet and very dark.
Saturday morning we awoke to fog, which we believe is pretty typical for this area in the morning and we left early so as to get sun on our panels. We made our way back to Gold River on the part dirt/part paved Tree to Sea Drive and then continued on to Campbell River with one stop shortly before the city.
We arrived at Elk River Provincial Park and did the 1.2 km hike to the falls view point over two bridges:
We continued into Campbell River and after a couple of errands parked outside the library for breakfast and some internet time. As we continue northward, it will get more scarce for sure. We stopped at a roadside rest area on Keta Lake for the night.
There was very little civilization during today’s drive north but it was a highway in great condition, with a good speed limit and even had some brand new sections. It was quite foggy this morning but it was lifting as we drove. Our first stop today was the small village of Telegraph Cove – many people recommended stopping here.
Well it is very small and they are taking advantage of their “scenic town” reputation – there is virtually NO free parking and even the viewpoint has been taken over by private homes. We found a small pull out near it and took a short walk for a peek.
Driving back into town we stopped for a look at the actual cove which was quite cute but we didn’t hang around on principle.
The fog hadn’t quite completely lifted but by the time we arrived in Port McNeil it was pretty sunny. We found the library to park at, get some internet and go for a walk.
On our walk we stopped to see The World Biggest Burl – it came from a 525 year old Sitka tree in the Holberg area. Its circumference is 13.7 m / 44′ 11″ and it weighs over 20 tons!
We spotted a laundromat with reasonable prices so we moved Tigger to park there (where the free wifi was actually better) and Fran did the laundry. We had a wild camp across the bay in mind to camp at but decided to try street parking here in town. Much of the town is pay parking (again) but there were parts near the ferry terminal that were free after 5pm. Where we were at the laundromat was also free so we hung there for the afternoon and moved at 5:30.
Monday morning, Labour Day, we awoke to a foggy drizzle that is supposed to lift. We went back to the good Wi-Fi, had a call with Serena and then made our way to Port Hardy which is a large town to do some errands, stock up and meet our friend Bill, who lives in Holberg, and his girlfriend for brunch.
They took us to a nice restaurant where COVID regulations appeared to be in place and it was delicious. We then each did some grocery shopping, Bill took Alecia home (she lives in Hardy) and we followed him to Holberg.
Enroute we stopped in the small village of Coal Harbour. It was major whaling station back in the day and the main structure is still standing (now used as a hangar, offices and a museum).
We visited the museum and it was pretty interesting. It had a couple of rooms dedicated to whaling, a couple to the air force base that used to be up here and a few other odd things:
We arrived in Holberg and parked out in front of Bill’s place; he lives in the bunk houses which have been renovated into small apartments. We plugged in, had hot showers and Bill made us an azbetti dinner to which we contributed a strawberry/rhubarb pie.
After dinner we went out for a tour in Bill’s truck, first to water his pot plants which he has hidden up a logging road 🙂
and then to his job site. Bill runs the Dump Site for the logging company he works for. That means running the frame log dump crane that unloads the logs from the trucks and drops them into the inlet where they are kept in booms until transported down the inlet to mills etc.
Tuesday morning, we set out for Grant Bay Recreational Park on the coast southwest of Holberg which is reputed to have an amazing white sandy beach of course we’d head to that! But first we made a stop at Bill’s work site to watch him in action. He runs the Dump site and operates the frame log dumper. If you’re interested, there are a few videos below of this machine in action operated by Bill.
It was logging roads all the way but only took an hour and the roads were not busy nor in that bad of shape. At the end of the road, we walked about 500 metres through the forest on a sometimes muddy path to a beautiful sandy beach! Quite a surprise for the Island as they are usually rocky. There were a few people camped in tents but the beach was pretty empty – just the way we like it! There were hundreds of seagulls in and the water who didn’t seem to like to leave the water.
We took a walk along the beach from end to end and then went back to Tigger for breakfast after which we packed up chairs, our umbrella etc. and returned to the beach for the afternoon.
We met two Venezuelan women from Victoria and chatted with Maria and Heidi on and off. It was a lovely afternoon in the sun. While sitting there, Fran was stung but a pesky hornet on her thigh so we checked and it wasn’t one of the murder hornets!
Here’s what they do look like:
We spent the night camped at the trailhead (no road access) and next morning made our way to check out the tiny town of Winter Harbour. There ‘s not much there!
We carried on back towards Holberg to check in with Bill at his job site before moving on to San Josef Bay. This is northwest of Holberg also along pretty good logging roads. This beach is in the Cape Scott Provincial Park. The parking lot was full but we managed to squeeze in. This parking lot is also the trailhead for the big Cape Scott trail which takes a few days and brings you to the north end of Vancouver Island.
San Josef was an large area between Holberg and Cape Scott where the government gave settlers crown land at the turn of the 20th century. At one point there were over 1000 residents, mostly of Danish descent. Due to inadequate transportation routes and no further hope of government financial, it eventually collapsed.
The hike to the beach we did, was 3km long and in good shape.
The beach was pretty but with a river coming out into it, not as pretty as Grant Bay. We sat on a log enjoying it for about a half hour before returning to Tigger and making out way back to Bill’s for one more night.
View of river near the trail on the way back:
That evening we went to Holberg’s only bar/restaurant, The Scarlet Ibis. with Bill.
This bar was here over 40 years ago when Doug worked here one summer for his stepdad who was a faller. Fran came here once with Doug for Christmas in 1981 we came to spend it with Doug’s family. It hasn’t changed much and is still owned by the same woman! (She has a sale in the works to the Hell’s Angels that is supposed to close this fall.)
We enjoyed some chicken wings and pizza for dinner, met a lot of Bill’s friends/coworkers and saw what a tight knit community he lives in. FYI there are less than three dozen people living here full time. Upon returning to Bill’s place we watched some of the NHL playoffs – weird without spectators!
Thursday morning we made our way back to Port Hardy after Bill popped in from work to say “see you later” and give us some frozen salmon, cod and prawns!
Upon arriving back in “Hardy”, we found some internet and spent some time online as cell reception was terrible at Bill’s and there is little working Wifi there. We got a few things done and picked up a couple of things at the grocery store before finding a wild camp to park for the night called Mystic Lake Eco Reserve where it seems the stickleback fish are protected in this lake.
Friday morning we got back to Port McNeill to better Wifi at the library and got caught up on several things.
Enroute we stopped at a place Bill had told us about just before town with the ACTUAL world’s largest burl:
This one is from a spruce tree and it is 18.7 around and weighs 22 tons; so definitely bigger than the one in town. In order to prevent further decay, it has been covered in a protective fibreglass coating.
Late that afternoon, the fog drifted in and we moved from town to a spot by the water south of town that Doug had found on his walk. It was very quiet; only a few fisherman and dog walkers came by before dark.
Doug went for a good run on Saturday morning – we have both seen good improvement in our ChickV lingering symptoms. We have both lost muscle mass and Fran is still worse off than Doug but we see the light! At present neither of us on relying on any pain killers – a big plus.
It was super foggy this morning and we decided to hang in Port McNeill another day using the free Wi-fi – we have no plans till Tuesday so we’re in no rush. We thought we’d do another load of laundry today too.
We did a second night at the waterfront and after a bit more wifi and some time to chat with Josh and call Serena for her 30th birthday, we hit the road once again. Today the smoke from the mainland fires is hitting us here on the island. A cloudy day turned into a smoky one and the sun was hardly seen; not a good day for solar panels. We made it to 98%.
We drove to Sayward on the coast off the main highway and took a stroll out to the boat launch spit past logging operations.
We then walked to the library to get some internet before returning to Tigger and heading back to the highway. There we camped at Elk Creek Recreation Site – a forestry camp that is user maintained. The only services are a pit toilet, tables and fire rings but it’s free! We tried to come here on the way north but it was full. Today, there was only one of the ten sites in use.
Due to the smoke and being in the woods, it was dark before usual and the sun hit the solar panels much later than normal.
Monday morning we made our way to south, stopping in Campbell River. We have put Tigger up for sale and are beginning to get inquiries already so we need to keep on top of them and Doug has begun our search for a new home on wheels; we are going the truck and trailer route this time to have more room and have separate wheels.
We went to the Tim Horton’s for breakfast and sat outside at a table that actually had an electrical outlet so we could plug in our laptops and spent a couple of hours online.
Next stop was Mt. Washington Alpine Resort – just to have a look. Due to the smoke, views were limited and although we thought we’d overnight it there, it was rather windy and the wind was cold (for us anyway!).
We began the drive back down and found a short logging road that was blocked off to park at.
We had a couple of sprinkles on and off all night and awoke to smoke AND fog. Today we were heading to Fran’s cousin’s place in Comox but first had one sightseeing stop to make and another stop at Costco to fill up and meet Doug’s UBC buddy, Pete for a short visit.
We made our way to Nymph Falls Regional Park. The falls cascade over the fish ladders blasted out in 1977 and assist in spawning.
It was a short hike to the falls and turned out better than we anticipated despite the foggy/smoky conditions.
We drove on into Courtney and parked behind the library for some free internet before making our way to the Costco in Comox to gas up and meet Pete. We treated ourselves to the $1,50 lunch at the food court as well.
We got to Mary & Gavin’s around three and were able to plug in; this smoke is quite a hindrance to charging up our solar panels! This morning we were down to 74% and by the time we got to Mary’s only 82% which is not great. We enjoyed a few beers chatting with Gavin while we waited for Mary to come home from work. We sat outside, of course, and as they have an unoccupied suite in their basement, that was ours to use for showers etc.
When Mary arrived, we ordered pizza and continued to sit outside until just before dark when we all said good night.
Wednesday morning we left early after saying our good byes.
Vancouver Island Fun Facts:
- Vancouver Island is larger than the province of Prince Edward Island but slightly smaller than the province of Nova Scotia – it is in fact the largest island on the west coast of North America
- It is 460 km / 285 mi in length from north to south
- It is 80 km / 50 mi in width at the widest point
- It has 3440 km / 2137 mi of coast line
- In 1946 there was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on the Island
- The tallest peak on the Island is Mt Golden Hind at 2195 m / 7201’
- Victoria is the capital city of the province as well as the largest city on the Island ; it sits at the south end of the Island; Zeballos is the smallest
- There are 50 cities and towns on the island
- Vancouver Island has the mildest climate in all of Canada with winters rarely going below freezing and summers that receive a maximum of 28-33C / 82-91F with an average of 23C – 73F.
- There are over two dozen ferry terminals one can take off the island either to other islands to the mainland
- The small city of Duncan is home to the World’s Largest hockey stick and puck. The 62.5 m / 205’ hockey stick is built from Douglas Fir wooden beams reinforced with steel, and weighs in at a staggering 28,118 kgs / 61,000 pounds. The nearby town of Ladysmith holds the Guiness record for the largest street hockey tournament.
- Famous people born on the Island: Pamela Anderson, Randy Bachman, Kim Catrall and Nelly Furtado
- The Island has some of the tallest and oldest spruce trees and cedars in the world, with some over 95 m / 310’ tall, and over 1000 years old.
- Vancouver Island is thought to have the densest population of black bears, with a population of about 7,000.