Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Vancouver Island

On Friday, we arrived in Seattle to stay with our friends Brian and Melissa. They had just bought a new house but hadn’t moved in yet, so over the weekend we helped them paint two of the rooms. On Monday morning, June 2, we went over to the house to clean up after our paint job. We touched up the trim, picked up the drop cloths, and generally admired how good the rooms looked. After that, we were off to Victoria, Canada, on Vancouver Island! Brian had been to Victoria years ago but Sarah never had, and she was very excited to see Butchart Gardens.

We were going to take the ferry from Anacortes, Washington, to Victoria, but we found out that it only leaves once a day this time of year, and it’s before 8 AM! No way were we going to make it to Anacortes that early. So instead, we decided to take a ferry from Vancouver. We found a special discount fare from Vancouver to Nanaimo, further north on Vancouver Island, so we decided to do that. Then we could see a bit more of Vancouver Island as we drove down to Victoria.

The weather was quite lovely for the ferry ride – sunny and warm, with surprisingly little wind. After enjoying the views from the outside deck for a while, Brian read about the Parksville and Qualicum Beach area, which is just north of Nanaimo. It looked like there was lots to do outdoors there, so we decided to go there first, before driving south down to Victoria.

We got to the island in the evening, did some grocery shopping, and then drove to Rathtrevor Provincial Park, which was right on the ocean. The campground looked great, with widely spaced, heavily wooded campsites, so we decided to stay.

It started raining overnight, and when Brian woke up around 5 AM to go to the bathroom, he noticed that his side of the tent seemed really damp. He reached over to Sarah’s side, and it wasn’t as wet. Then he unzipped the tent and realized that his side was sitting in a half inch of water! The campsites were extremely large and well-graded, which was nice, except it meant that even the slightest divot would collect water in a downpour like the present one. Brian, in his sleepy stupor, tried to mop up the puddle with paper towels, which, not surprisingly, was completely futile. Fortunately, Sarah woke up and suggested that we move the tent. Most of the rest of the campsite was completely dry – somehow, we’d chosen the worst spot to pitch our tent. We quickly unstaked the tent and shuffled it over with our sleeping stuff still inside, then restaked it and went back to bed.

In the morning, we walked out to the ocean and discovered that the tide was way out.

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With the tide out, we had great fun wandering around, looking for tidepool life. We found a variety of different sea stars.

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We also saw crabs. This guy was on his back in the sand, floundering around, until Sarah flipped him back over.

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Our plan for the day was to drive further north to hike at to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. But at our campsite in Rathtrevor, we quickly discovered that Canadians are extremely friendly and talkative – camping seemed to be much more of a social experience in Canada. A couple of guys who dropped by our site recommended that we visit a town called Coombs, which happened to be right on the way to Englishman River Falls. So we did.

The big sight in Coombs is the Old Country Store, which has goats living on its roof! It was raining on this day, so the goats were seeking shelter.

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Inside, the store had a wide variety of goods. We bought some brandy-filled chocolates and cheese, and admired the colorful decorations.

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We wandered around the outside of the store for a while, too, and thought the Coombs taxi was cute.

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After leaving Coombs, we headed to Englishman River Falls. A short trail there leads to not one, but two waterfalls, and it was easy to see why this was considered one of the best hikes on Vancouver Island. Here’s the first waterfall:

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A short walk later, we came to the second waterfall, which was actually three separate falls.

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In fact, there was water tumbling everywhere just above the three falls.

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The view down the river was pretty, too.

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After the hike, we went back to our campground and jogged on a trail along the beach. Now it was high tide, and the water completely covered the rocks, running almost right up to the forest. The difference between high and low tides must have been at least 100 yards of land!

As we ran, it started raining lightly, and it kept it up, so we got into the tent early. We played a game of Scrabble – no small feat in our little backpacking tent – and then went to bed.

The next day, we were going on another hike, much longer than the previous day’s, on the Arrowsmith Trail. We parked by Cameron Lake, and the weather looked much more promising than the previous day.

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Inexplicably, right at the beginning of the trail was the rusty, barely recognizable shell of a car.

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The hike was mostly forested, but a short side trail led to a pretty waterfall called McBey Falls.

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Occasionally, we got ocean views through the trees.

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After climbing for a while, the trail got rougher and rougher, with lots of obstacles to climb around. Then we hit some serious snow patches. Maybe it was too early in the year to be doing this hike.

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We hiked up the East Loop Arrowsmith Trail, which topped out near a ski area, and then we hiked the West Loop back down. There were more pretty views on the way down.

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Here’s Sarah, happy to be almost finished.

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The return drive took us back through Coombs, so we stopped there again to see if the goats were out now that the weather had cleared up. One was walking around, but the two in their hut were cuter.

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That evening, we drove south toward Victoria. We set up camp in Goldstream Provincial Park for two nights, just 20 minutes or so from Victoria. It wasn’t raining, so we stayed outside that night, drinking a bottle of wine and playing Scrabble. We went to bed pretty late, for us – after 11 PM.

The next morning, we drove into Victoria. We had breakfast at a great hole-in-the-wall bakery and café, and then we walked to the Parliament building.

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Right around the corner from the Parliament building was Thunderbird Totem Pole Park.

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Then we headed to Butchart Gardens, which are huge flower gardens just outside Victoria, and the town’s biggest tourist attraction. Unfortunately, it was drizzling, but at least the rain kept the crowds away – hardly any cars were in the parking lot when we arrived.

Despite the rain, the colorful flowers were quite pretty.

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The rhododendrons were in especially fine bloom.

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Or were they azaleas? We visited the plant identification room later in the day to find out the difference between rhododendrons and azaleas, and apparently, the rules are ever-changing and never clear-cut.

The Butcharts lived around the turn of the century. Mr. Butchart ran a successful cement-manufacturing business, and Mrs. Butchart was into plants. So she decided to revitalize one of his quarries by turning it into a huge garden. She had the initial vision and did the initial planning herself, and then crews, including some of Mr. Butchart’s quarry workers, got to work, bringing in topsoil, planting, and demolishing the smokestacks of the quarry, but leaving one behind as a lasting reminder of what the place had been before its renewal.

The garden became known as the Sunken Garden, and the first glimpse that visitors get is a panoramic view down into the garden.

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We spent a lot of time admiring the flowers, occasionally looking one up in the identification guide that we’d received with our admission. The Sunken Garden turned out to be our favorite area of the entire gardens.

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One small area had a group of gardeners working in it. Apparently, the plants are turned over very frequently – when the season for one type of flower has passed, it’s entirely uprooted and replaced with something else. It must take a lot of work to keep the gardens looking as beautiful as they did!

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One of the Butcharts’ grandchildren designed a dancing fountain, similar to the one at the Bellagio although without music and on a much smaller scale. Still, it was very pretty, with a waterfall off to one side.

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Just past the fountain were a couple of totem poles.

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Proceeding with our tour, we found a couple of pretty flowers that were worthy of close-up photos.

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We thought the double-helix fish fountain was interesting.

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After being outside in the chilly rain for about two hours, we decided to find a place to warm up. Fortunately, there was a coffee shop with a couple of open seats by the fireplace, so we hung out there for close to an hour.

After we went back into the gardens, we found a spitting boar. Rubbing the boar’s snout was supposed to bring good luck.

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We took one last pretty flower picture in the Japanese garden before heading off.

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Next we went to the Craigdarroch Castle, built by Robert Dunsmuir, a wealthy coal baron.

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Some kids were outside, dressed in costumes right out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and fencing with wooden swords

It was still raining, so we were reluctant to go back to our campsite, where we’d be tempted to call it an early night. So instead, we went to Munro’s, a bookstore in downtown Victoria, and hung out there for a while browsing books. It was getting toward sunset when we left, and now, finally, the sun was shining. Oh well, we’ve been spoiled with great weather for nearly all of our travels so far. You can’t get that lucky all the time.

We set the alarm for 6 AM before going to bed because we wanted to hike up a small mountain in Goldstream Provincial Park the next morning before heading back to Washington on the ferry. But when the alarm went off, it was raining pretty hard on the tent, so we weren’t inclined to get up. We stayed in the tent until close to 8 while it rained outside, and then we finally decided that we should take showers and make breakfast. We made breakfast and broke down camp in the rain, and as we drove toward Sidney, it stopped raining. By the time we got to the ferry landing, there were some patches of blue sky. Go figure.

The ferry route afforded some pretty views on its way to San Juan Island, and eventually Anacortes.

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From Anacortes, we drove back to Seattle for the Friday rehearsal dinner that preceded the wedding of our friends, Leah and Som!

1 comment:

Rake said...

Your adventures and photos are always inspiring.
Thanks!