Sunday, 30 November 2014

Back to Mystical Vancouver Island

Visiting Jack and Edna

It seems to me there is something special - mystical even - about islands. Maybe it's because you have to make a special effort to get to them, crossing the water - not our natural environment - by either taking a ferry or a flight. If you're getting their under your own steam by canoe, rowboat or kayak that sense of making a special effort is even more heightened. 

Vancouver Island seems to be something of a mystery to most folks who don’t hail from Canada or have a close connection with the Land of the Maple Leaf. Often when I mention “Vancouver Island” to people in conversation, this is the sort of pattern that ensues …

Person:        Where do you come from originally?
Me:             Canada. Vancouver Island to be exact.
Person:        Oh, I’ve (never) been to Vancouver.
Me:             Okay, but Vancouver Island is a separate off the coast of B.C. It’s actually quite a big island … around half the size of Tasmania or Ireland.
Person:        Really! Well, I never heard of it.
Me:             You’re not the only one. The city of Victoria at the southern end of the island is actually the capital of B.C.
Person:        Hmm. Interesting.

Here’s an image from Google Maps which illustrates the shape of the island and the driving distance from Victoria at the southern end to the tiny hamlet of Holberg, the northernmost outpost of civilisation: 

The Road north to ... Holberg!
Aside: I find the fact of Vancouver Island being so little known rather interesting, as I remember the flood of American tourists that would invade the island each summer when I was a kid. And when we were visiting with our friends Konrad and Izabela I came across a picture of Greg Child on the first ascent of a climb on one of the remote peaks of the island, the photo having been taken by the famed British mountaineer Doug Scott. So the place is obviously known outside of B.C., but perhaps not widely ...


So, after a week in Vancouver Dianne and I headed across the Strait of Georgia ...

Strait of Georgia

... to Nanaimo and north to the town of Comoxwhere I grew up and where my Mom and Dad still live. The name “Comox” is actually an anglicised version of the First Nations “Komo’oks”, which means “plentiful", and must say something about the area when you consider that the whole west coast was a land of plenty for the indigenous peoples.

We had allowed a couple of days in Comox before heading further north. Our plan to rendezvous with Mom and Dad consisted of a mixture of brief visits with both my parents and a day out with Mom, who gets a couple of days respite per week when Dad goes off to adult day care.

Arriving late Wednesday afternoon, we went straight to Bella’s Beachfront Bed & Breakfast out near the airport. Dad is unsettled if folks other than Mom are in the house for an extended period so it’s best to prop elsewhere. As it turned out  Bella's was a great spot to spend a couple of nights. It was great mixture of luxury and seclusion at a very reasonable price, and the hosts Jim and Laurie are wonderful people. What more could you want? Here are a couple of photos ...

Looking out over the Strait of Georgia
(Yes that is a hot tub you can see on the deck.)

A double bath and a double shower!

The next morning we picked Mom up and drove her to Nanaimo so she could do a bit of shopping. As most of her days off are spent doing the chores to keep things ticking over, it was good to give her the opportunity to have a bit of R&R. We drove back along the beautiful coast road for a while and dropped into the lovely town of Qualicum Beach before hot-footing it back to Comox so that my Dad wouldn’t be waiting for us to arrive back home. We went inside for a while to have a bit more of a chat. I was pleased to see Dad switched on to what was happening and very keen for his evening meal. Mon persuaded him to eat half an apple to keep him going until suppertime rolled around! He and I spent a while looking at some classic photos of BC in British Columbia Magazine …

Dad and Doug ... both in checked shirts!?!

The next day we had a leisurely start before having lunch with the folks and then heading north to Quadra Island to spend the weekend with our Calgary friends Konrad and Izabela. They’re dead-set keen kayakers, and have bought a house for their retirement in paddling paradise. When they heard we were making a quick visit to see family, they suggested we could rendezvous on Quadra for the weekend. Here’s what the drive from Port Coquitlam to Comox and on to Quadra looks like …

Port Coquitlam to Quadra Island
The route from PoCo to Horseshoe Bay is relatively quick via the Trans-Canada Highway (largely freeway at this point), then a ferry ride followed mostly by a drive up the island through forest. 

One can probably get a pretty good idea from the image above why the area is a paddlers’ paradise but here is a satellite picture that demonstrates even more clearly the convoluted nature of the coastline and the myriad of islands, fiords and channels to be explored … 

If you want to paddle a sea kayak this is the place!

Magical Quadra Island

Konrad and Iza were very keen to show off their adopted corner of the planet. It’s a beautiful island with views across to the coast range in the east and the mountains of the Beaufort Range on Vancouver Island itself. The skies were somewhat overcast but we did manage to get in two days of exploring, with the local weather gods blessing us by causing rain to fall only at night. Amazing luck in this place of heavy precipitation! To give you an idea of just how much moisture does fall out of the sky, here are some comparisons of annual precipitation:

For Tasmanians ... it rains slightly more on Quadra than in Strahan
For Queenslanders ... there is almost 50% more rain each year on Quadra than in Brisbane
For our Euro and French friends ... it rains more each year on Quadra than what it does in Paris and London combined
For Americans ... it rains more on Quadra than in either Boston, New York or Seattle.

So, what makes Quadra so magical? For me it's the combination of rock, trees and water everywhere you look. Apart from the aforementioned world-class kayaking, there is hiking in the forest and walks along the shore. I might just put a few images in front of you and let them speak for themselves ...

At water level

Miniature erosion groove

Rock and gravel detail

Photographic surveyor?

Lapping it up
Deep in the forest
Although we had fabulous luck with the weather it was, as one would expect, fairly cool. This photo of Izabela, Konrad, Di and me on the summit of South Chinese Mountain shows us pretty well rugged up ...

Fine but cool
We had a couple of short walks in the forest but really the high points of our tripping around Quadra would  have to be our excursions along the seashore. Although there are a couple of tiny spots where a bit of sand has collected, the island is no beach lover's picnic. What it does provide is a rocky coastline and wonderful vistas redolent with the history of human activity along the coast. There is driftwood everywhere due to log booms breaking loose during storms over the period of more than two centuries since Captain Vancouver cut spars for his ships back in the 18th century.  Here is a shot that shows a collection of logs caught in a cove ...

Wood, rock, sea and sky

Over time, these big logs gradually wear down into smaller pieces. A sense of scale is provided in the next picture by a twig of pine needles in the lower left hand corner ...

Everything gets worn down in the end

There are lots of little surprises to be found, like this steel eye pinning the remnants of a broken tether to a wayward log ...

Steel and sisal are no match for the power of the sea
As one would expect there is lots of life in the forest, the sea and in the air. Northern Vancouver Island is said to have the highest population of cougars on the planet, and there are apparently plenty on Quadra. Black bear abound too, but not grizzlies. (Thankfully, we didn't encounter either.) Amongst other life, the sea teems with shrimp, scallops and salmon. There is plenty of birdlife for ornithological enthusiasts. We mostly saw gulls, ducks and eagles. The ducks that Di was most taken with were the Harlequins, and she got some shots of them both in the water ...

Harlequins at Rebecca Spit

... and floating past on logs pushed along by ever-present currents ...

Just cruising
Despite not having a super high-tech camera she also managed to get a reasonable shot of a bald-headed eagle, which are also more prolific here on the B.C. coast than anywhere else ...

The eagle ... has landed!
I think I'll close off this post with a shot down by the water, taken on our last evening together with Konrad and Izabela. The sun had broken through the cloud cover briefly to light up the coast range on the B.C. mainland for us to admire ...

Enjoying the last of the evening light

And with that I'll say goodbye for now ...