Saturday, March 28, 2009

The end of our Vancouver Island trip.

A year ago today is the day we returned home from our 3 week stay on Vancouver Island. As it turns out, the weather that day was very similar to today's - wet and cold, bordering on snow.

But before we can get home, we have to go back to the day before, when once more we woke up to - you guessed it - SNOW! It wasn't quite so wonderful with blue skies as this picture suggests, at least not at first, but it did clear up quickly, but once again we reasoned that if there was snow down here on the beach....what on earth happened up in the mountains. The view from our campsite.
There were a number of Crows (these would be Northwestern Crows) hanging about looking for handouts.

As well as a couple of Steller's Jay.

After breakfast we went for another walk along the beach where we saw this American Robin looking sort of out of place.

A last check at the rocks in case any shorebirds had happened to show up over night. They hadn't......

So settled for Starfish instead. Since we had decided that heading back that morning didn't seem like the most prudent thing to do, we went and paid for yet another night and then headed into Uculet. Seems to me I was running low on paper towels after moping up moisture constantly. I should mention that being in Uculet brings back memories as I spent my 16th birthday there. My father built houses for a living, by himself, from start to finish, and for some reason he was building some houses in Uculet. The road had really just been pushed through at that point. My father had the first VW van to come into British Columbia, and never drove anything else afterwards and it was in one of these vans that we made the trip over road so rough that at one point we had to stop and hunker down at the side of the road while they blasted and then cleared up before we could proceed. I had been elected to go with him to do some house painting. The surprising thing is that Uculet doesn't look that much different than it did back then, more years than I'd care to mention!
One thing that Uculet does have are some nice walking trails and we headed to one after doing our shopping chores. The following scenes show the rugged coastline.

After our walk we were heading back to camp when we noticed that we could see the tops of all the mountains that stood between us and getting home. We looked at each other and read each others minds - it was now or never! By then it was 4:00 pm in the afternoon, we tossed the dogs their supper and hooked up the trailer in record time. Although we didn't expect it, the park people gave us back our money for that night and we headed out. A large transport truck was just ahead of us - perfect - let it clear the road ahead of us, we just sat on his tail and made it all the way to Port without incident. There are some trips you never want to end, this wasn't one of them (at least not after the last few days). My husband was all for heading straight to the ferry terminal, but that would have meant not getting home until the wee hours of the morning, so we headed back to Rathtrevor and picked a spot. Didn't even unhook the trailer or put down the jacks, just parked it for the night.
Next morning we are up bright and early, take the dog for a quick walk - and - it started to snow - again!!! Drove to the Tim Hortons for a breakfast to eat on the road and it was really snowing. Got to Nanaimo and the roads were turning white. Got to the ferry terminal and sat there in the snow and wondered what was happening on the other side as there is a steep hill to climb out of Horseshoe Bay but figured we'd cross that bridge when we got to it. As it turned out it was only raining on this side and although we drove through a bit of sleet part way home, we made it.
Thus bringing the first trip of the year to a close.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Day 3 on the west coast

Remember the last picture on the last post? The view taken from our campsite of what appeared to be a clearing sky? Well next morning we got up to this view - same place - and yes, that is snow! Now I don't think that snow is all that usual on the west coast of the island at any time of the year. Definitely not at the end of March, as these pictures were taken on March 26th of 2008. However, the thought of being able to get pictures of snow on Long Beach was kind of exciting and so after breakfast, we headed to the beach.
As you can see from the tracks, we weren't the only people crazy enough to be camping on the island in March, there were others out there as well.

One had to admit that it held a certain charm......and of course my ulter-ego thought she had died an gone to heavan - a beach with snow - what more could you ask for!

Driftwood, grasses, sand and snow. After a morning walk on the beach we decided to take a bit of a drive. My husband had wanted to go to Toquart Bay, so to do that we had to head back out highway 4 - the road in (finally now I am almost at the end of this - I've found my map of Vancouver Island).

This is Kennedy Lake, a large lake right beside the highway. We stopped here to use the rest rooms. The turn off to Torquart Bay was just a little further down the highway but it soon became apparent that unless we had a snowmobile, we wouldn't be going to Torquart Bay today, as the road was still snow covered, so back we head to the beach.
This time we decided to go to Wickaninnish Beach. Many years ago the Wickaninnish Inn used to be located on this beach, now a bigger and grander version of that Inn is at the Tofino end on Chesterman Beach that we had visited the day before. The building still remains and is now an interpretive center, which we have never actually gone in. There is a big parking area here and you can either walk north along the sandy beach towards Long Beach, or you can walk a more interesting trail with lots of boardwalk and some up and down stairs, that takes you to some more rocky and secluded bays. This was the route we chose.

As you can see the scenery along this route was spectacular.

This view is looking north along the beach.

It helped too, that the skies had cleared and the sun had come out.

One of the rockier beachs towards the end of the trail.

This was about as far as you could go. We had walked this whole route without seeing a single bird.

But when we got back to the parking lot, there was a flock of Red Crossbills feeding on these cones.
With the skies clearing we figured we'd be able to make it back over to the east side of the island the next day.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Day 2 on the West Coast

I had meant to get this posted yesterday, but simply ran out of time. We are thinking of changing our traveling system from a truck and travel trailer and going back to a truck and camper like we used to have. We've found the camper we want, but now we need to find a heavier duty truck to carry it, so a lot of my time at the computer has been searching for available trucks.

So back to the west coast and on the 25th of March last year - it was the 'wet' west coast as we got up to rain, sometimes mixed with snow. Not the sort of day for walking miles on the beach so after breakfast we decided to go for a drive. First stop was at Grice Bay. Grice Bay is on the east side of the peninsula that has Tofino at one end and Uculet at the other. This can be a pretty spot but as you can see it was pretty dreary on this day. So onwards to the town of Tofino. Tofino has grown considerably in the past few years, and definitely caters to the tourist. We drove to Chesterman Beach, a beach that we used to enjoy years ago but that is now lined with expensive homes and hotels.
As you can see it was a charming day.......

but that didn't stop these surfers from heading out into the waves - in fact as we were leaving a lot more surfers were arriving. Surfing is really promoted in the area. Back to the truck and back on the road heading south once more (there is only one road, you don't have much choice!). Stopped at the large parking area for Long Beach which is situated at the north end of the beach.

This is almost the most northerly end of Long Beach.

My ulter-ego looking southwards at the same area.

That rock in the distance is 'Seal Rock', so named because it is usually covered with seals or sea lions.

A bit further along we spotted these Sanderling, the only shorebirds we saw the entire time we were there. Sanderling are like little mechanical toys. As a wave comes in they march up the beach ahead of the wave........

Then as it recedes, the march back following the ebbing wave......

and picking up any tidbits they can find.

The rest of the day continued pretty dark and gray with rain off and on. By this time the novelty of being on the west coast is wearing thin as everything is wet. Our clothes are wet, we've used every towel we own drying off us and dogs, the windows in the trailer are constantly streaming with moisture.......but as long as the weather stays the way it is, we don't dare attempt heading back over the mountains, so have to wiat it out.
By evening the sky is breaking and things look more hopeful.
This is the view from our campsite as evening falls.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Long Beach

This post will bring last years trip at this time, up to date. After enjoying a lovely Easter Dinner at my daughters, it was time to decide what we were going to do for the last week of our trip. We hadn't spent much time up island so hadn't had a chance to see too much of the grandchildren, nor had we had a chance to visit friends in the area, but you also kind of feel robbed if you don't get over to the West Coast, especially with the cost of towing a trailer on the ferries, you want to get as much 'bang for your buck' as you can.

I wasn't sure of the wisdom of traveling to the west coast at that time of the year, as it involves going over a couple of mountain ranges. The first one being between Parksville and Port Alberni and then the other, larger one, between Port Alberni and the coast. Now the one to Port (as islanders call it) isn't that big a deal. Lots of people live in Port and work in Parksville or Qualicum and vice versa, so traveling over the 'hump' as it is called is something that you don't even really think about.

We woke to a beautiful sunny morning and decided to "give it a try". So hooked up and headed out, pointed the truck westward and off we went, past Little Qualicum and on towards Cameron Lake and through Cathedral Grove and up the hump we went. I think there was a bit of snow at the side of the road at the top of the hump, but nothing to even think twice about, and arrived in Port, still in the sunshine. Seems I recall a huge flock of Swallows flying over head as we headed to a gas station for a top up.

Now as soon as you leave Port Alberni you start to climb, and as we started to climb, the blue sky vanished to be replaced with gray and it started to snow. Just lightly - at first - and then a little more serious. About this time I said "I don't think this is such a good idea" and there was a spot coming up where we could have turned around....but of course my husband, the eternal optimist figured that this wouldn't last and on we went. The snow is really coming down now, but the road is still wet, and I am remembering the viewpoints along this highway where I thought we could turn around if we had to. What I didn't realize was how high the highway got and how much snow was plowed up in banks along the sides, by the time the road was no longer wet, but white, I also found that they don't plow out the viewpoints, so turning around was no longer an option. By this time even husband is realizing that maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all. We eventually reached the rest area which is about half way and there was a plowed track into the rest area, so we pulled in there. Of course all the time we've been traveling west, the route we have come over has been getting whiter and whiter and the snow is really starting to build up so the trip back could be pretty dicey. About that point another vehicle comes in, from the opposite direction, so my husband goes over and asks him what the road that way is like, and they say that it was sunny when they left the coast (remember it was sunny in Port too!) and that this spot right here was the worst - well that was all he needed to hear, so westward ho!

The highway from Port to the rest area is relatively new, straight and wide, the road from the rest area on is old, twisting, narrow and rough. Even in good conditions you hold your breath as you approach a corner with a rock face on one side and sheer drop off on the other and a road barely wide enough for two cars to pass, let alone transport trucks and RV's.......however, we did make it. The driver of the other vehicle had been right, once you got not too much further down the road, the snow lessened a bit and the road changed from white to wet once more and as we approached the coast, the then rain, stopped all together.

Once you reach the coast you have the option of heading south to Uculet or north to Tofino, we were headed for Pacific Rim National Park as that is the only 'non private' campsite in the area. We had an annual pass for our National Parks, so this wasn't a problem and I had already checked that it would be open. There are only a few sites in this campground that actually have a view of the ocean, but this early in the season, we were lucky to be able to nab one and so got set up and then off to the beach.

The campground itself is up on a bluff and there area a couple of fairly steep, but negotiable trails down to the beach itself.

This is the view you see as you reach the end of the trail and climb over the driftwood to the beach itself. Here the tide is out fairly far. This is looking sort of north west. You can walk for miles along this beach - which is why it is called 'Long Beach'
Look in the other direction and this is the view. The campground is up on the buff to the left. We were heading for the rocks that stick out from there.

Always before when we have been here, those rocks are covered in bird life. Turnstones, Oyster Catchers, Plovers, Tattlers, Surf birds and on and on it goes - this trip - not one single bird the entire time we were there.

However, I love the roar of the ocean and the breaking of the waves.

And views like this, the closest we came to a real sunset.......

Back to the Beach

On the 22nd of last year we picked up my daughter in the morning, and set about doing some 'tourist' things. Our first stop was at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Center, run by Robin Campbell. When Robin first located to Errington (just outside of Parksville), my husband did a lot of work with him in the construction of the center, as well as helping out in other ways - like helping to bath a Bald Eagle or picking up a Turkey Vulture from the airport. The Center has grown a lot since those days. We did a tour and had hoped to see Robin to say hello, but only volunteers seemed to be staffing the gift shop and other areas so we didn't get a change to renew old aquintances.

From there we headed Qualicum to the beach, since my daughter, like us when we lived there, had trouble finding the time to just go and enjoy.

The profusion of bird life was evident when we started to walk out onto the beach. It was sunny but windy so a little on the cool side.
The Surf Scoters were in closer to the beach edge than I have ever seen them (not that I've seen them very often!).

I think Herring Roe is the great attractant. Besides the Scoters and Gulls there were a few Red Breasted Merganser and Barrow's Goldeneye in the mix.

The above shot has a Red Breasted Merganser just to the right - heading in the opposite direction to everybody else.

and we even saw some more Brant. On the way back to the car, my daughter spotted this tiny sea urchin. That is her finger for a size comparison.

Not only had we never seen a sea urchin so tiny, but this wasn't the sort of beach where you would expect to find any sea urchins. They are usually found on beaches with large rocks that they cling to, usually around the base and in tidal pools. This little guy was in a tidal pool, but the beach was a mix of sand and small rocks.
From the beach we headed to a place that we had driven past on a daily basis going to and fro work, but had never actually visited. That was Butterfly World on the Alberni Highway, so we decided to visit. The setting would look a lot more spectacular later in the season, but was still impressive with a lovely Japanese style pond and garden.

Here are some of the various Butterflies.

They used a lot of these red Kalochia plants and the butterflies certainly seemed to enjoy them. I tried to get pictures of the Button Quail that were also running around in the area but didn't succeed in getting anything worth keeping. They brought back memories because when we had lived in the area I had a small greenhouse and kept a pair of Button Quail in it for insect control. It worked great except for the odd time when they decided to jump up and nip off some seedlings for some fresh greens!
Another section had a display of Orchids, so we took those in as well although the heat and humidity was getting to us after having been out in the 'fresh' air at the beach.