Vancouver and The Island

1 10 2009

We had initially planned to do a loop of the British Columbia mainland but we were consistently told how nice the island was so switched our route to here for a few days.

On our return from Whistler we took a ferry over to Nanaimo and stayed up the coast near Qualicum Beach. Zoë had read about a place serving ‘Perfect Fish and Chips’ which was obviously a claim we had to thoroughly investigate! The Fish Tales cafe was a quaint little english style tea-room with Horse brasses on the beams, Old Spice scented washrooms and pictures of Lichfield Cathedral and Stratford-upon-Avon adorning the walls! The long wait for our food was worth it – very tasty cod and chips, although it’s only fair we sample several more places around the world before we agree they were Perfect!

It was here that we decided to have a go at sleeping in the car as it was getting increasingly colder every night. After a frustrating half an hour trying to fold the seats away in the dark we settled down and got a warm nights sleep for once – the tent hasn’t been erected since!

Sleeping in the boot - Too cold for tents!

We took a couple of days to travel out to Hornby and Denman islands – small little hippie islands full of artists and potters where we generally lazed about on white sandy beaches all day!

We travelled over to The West coast of the main island next to Tofino, home to several more long sandy beaches, crashing surf and lots of boating and kayaking around the groups of islands nearby.

We took a boat trip out to Hot Springs cove which was about 25 miles from Tofino through occasionally choppy waters. I’d endured worse though and the wildlife spotting was a welcome distraction! First spot was a pair of Grey Whales although they’re not the acrobatic type so we only saw the odd hump and squirt of their blowholes. It was from here that we also saw our first Bear – a sizeable black bear walking along the beach looking for food. He was soon gone though as we motored into shore for a closer look.

A fuzzy bear.. or is it a cow?

The Hot Springs are volcanically heated to around 109ºC before being forced out of the ground. They then flow down towards the sea and cascade over waterfalls into several tidal pools at a more comfortable 42ºC. We lounged around in here for a while after getting used to the slimy rocks and thousands of pieces of sediment and little sea animals floating around you! Standing under a hot waterfall is quite a strange sensation – it gives a good pummelling massage though so you soon get used to it!

Heading back to Tofino we stopped again for more wildlife spotting – A couple of Bald Eagles and a pair of Humpback whales who were marginally more active than the boring Greys, flashing the odd tail as they gave us the run around trying to predict where they’d next surface!

Once we’d returned to dry land we headed down to Ucluelet – causing a mini ‘Bear-jam’ en-route as 3 bears popped out of the hedgerow right next to our car! Two little cubs and we assume Mother, although Mother was a little small herself so possibly a scandalous teenage pregnancy. They didn’t hang around though. After a sniff of the road they lined up and were off back into the bushes before we could get a picture – we must start keeping the cameras in the front of the car!

Having re-energised on the beaches of Vancouver Island we set off to tackle The Grouse Grind once we’d returned to the mainland. This is a 2.9km hike up the 30° slope of Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver, consisting of 2830 steps and an elevation gain of 2800ft! There’s an annual race up the trail and over 100,000 people a year tackle the hike to the top which brought out my competitive nature to see how I stacked up! The record is 24 minutes, 22 seconds – held by a Kiwi Mountain Running World Champion – would the record still stand by the end of the day?!

Zoë wasn’t really bothered about racing up so got lumbered with the rucksack while I sped on ahead! After a good 80 or 90 seconds I figured out while no-one else was running – this was pretty hard! I kept up the walk-jog-walking for another 7 or 8 minutes and then packed in the jogging completely. It was a pretty cold day anyway but as you ascended further inhaling the chilled cloud vapour made your lungs burn with every gasp of air! I ploughed on passing several people on the way and as the trail levelled off slightly I rounded the corner and checked my watch – 22 minutes 19 seconds!

Now if only I could do the second half in 2 minutes! Slightly demoralised after noticing the ½ way sign I battled on, sucking up more freezing clouds as I went and eventually reached the top. The clock stopped at 42 minutes and 41 seconds which is apparently pretty respectable for a first go. My time actually placed me 3rd fastest of the day but after remembering it was a Wednesday morning, out of season and my fellow competitors were probably all retired I didn’t get too excited!

Zoë successfully arrived 25 minutes later with the lunch – what a good wife! We also got to see a couple of Grizzly Bears up at the top – massive – but luckily from behind a fence as they were orphaned ones that have been raised in their own little bear habitat at the top of the mountain.

It’s probably our last day in Canada today so we needed to try out the local delicacy before we left – ‘Poutine’, or Cheesy Chips and Gravy as we’d call it at home! We’ve burned enough calories in Canada, especially today up the Grind so a big pot of chips each for dinner was well deserved!

Next stop is Seattle for a few days of Coffee and Fish – Goodbye Canada, eh!

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