One recurring topic of conversation as we met people throughout our trip was: “Did you go over to Vancouver Island before you headed into the US?”. Well, no, we didn’t. To be completely honest we didn’t exactly appreciate what a lovely little island it is until we looked after being asked the same question several times. Thankfully at the end of the trip we had managed to save six days to head across the water to Vancouver Island to see what all the fuss was about.
LincsGeek waiting for the ferry.
From Whistler, where we’d spent the last couple of nights, we continued along the 99 Sea to Sky Highway down to Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry over to Nanaimo. In hindsight we perhaps should have stopped at the Sea to Sky Gondola, but we rode past the busy car park on the side of the road thinking it was okay as we went up onto the mountain in Jasper just the other day. Looking at photos since, we missed out on an amazing experience up there – but it is true that we packed in so much on this trip we simply couldn’t do everything.
There were no straps to hold the bikes down, just a wooden block each to stop it rocking too much, and so we crossed our fingers for the trip across and made sure we were back well in time to arrive at Nanaimo so we could sit on/hold/watch the bikes as we docked. Our crossing was pretty comfortable, around 1 hour 40 minutes or so with some lovely views and intermittent wifi for company. We spent the time reading tourism guides and blog posts and making a rough list of the places we wanted to visit while we were on the Island; we wanted to fit in as much as possible in the last few days of Zartusacan but also slow things down a little so we felt refreshed and relaxed before we flew home; more of a road trip holiday to end our adventure, if you like.
The marina in Nanaimo.
Apparently known as “The Harbour City”, Nanaimo is a pretty city on the water – with boat yards, a marina, beach and lots of seafront shops and cafes. We stayed on the outskirts and walked the couple of miles along the waterside path into town, where we found a Greek restaurant for an amazing dinner. It was Canada Day and there were beachside parties and fireworks, although a bit more low-key than we’d imagined.
Every seaside town needs a massive photo frame.
Coombs and Goats on the Roof
We’d seen in the guide books about “Goats on the Roof”, which is a café and market with, well, goats on the roof. However when we arrived the whole town had a power cut and the only place that was open was a café next door from which we had our first taste of Nanaimo bar (SO good!). We had a wander along the street, confirming the power cut was everywhere, but were glad we did as we came across an information board explaining the origins of the town. Actually named after a Salvation Army officer who set up homes here for those who emigrated from the infamous Victorian London slums, it was cool to see something of the Christian charity life I know back home.
Goats on the roof.
Horne Lake Caves
After riding along the 19A, the coastal highway, and stopping for a walk along Qualicum Beach we had another one of those “saw the sign and followed it” moments. This time it was “caves”, and after 15km or so along tarmac and gravel road we found Horne Lake Caves. What a fantastic place! We chatted to the rangers, borrowed a map showing the two sets of caves open to the public without a guide, grabbed our head torches from our camping bag and headed out (or in…) to explore. Had we been here longer (or planned ahead) we may have booked onto one of the proper tours, but as a very nervous caver thanks to previous experiences, the few minutes having a look inside what felt like pretty serious caves was enough for me this time. There are hikes and other activities here to, it looks like a great place to come next time we are here!
The road to Horne Lake Caves.
Inside Horne Lake Caves.
We stayed in Campbell River overnight and had been tipped off about an “amazing” fish and chip shop, but after waiting in a short line for 15 minutes and then once getting to the counter being told we’d have to wait at least 40 minutes for food because the coach tour group that had taken over the place was more important, we left and went elsewhere. A sign on the door saying they were closed for a private group would have been appreciated! Ah well, their loss, we get good fish and chips back home!
Must be a very strong stick.
We made a stop at the Elk Falls Provincial Park, which had a rather impressive car park and trail recently completed as part of an agreement with the BC Hydro John Hart Generation Station Replacement Project. After walking over the huge hydro-plant pipes, put there to divert the water should things at the plant get a little too wet, we had a nice woodland walk to an impressive waterfall and fantastic suspension bridge over the gorge. It was very bouncy to walk across and steep at the start and finish, but that didn’t bother us like it did some other visitors who were there at the same time as us. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area one day.
Hydroplant pipe work.
Suspension bridge at Elk Falls.
We took the 28 down to Gold River, a lovely twisty road through forest and alongside lakes that was a joy to ride in the sunshine. We stopped at Elk Portal to take in the lake view and then continued along to Gold River. Many roads on Vancouver Island are gravel and dirt logging and local access roads, and we took one of those over to Tahsis, a town with just 300 residents that was once the centre of the forestry industry on the island but is now all about fishing. The road was 40 miles of dirt, gravel and potholes, quite testing to start with but we soon got into the groove and enjoyed the ride to the strange little town. We stopped in the museum and tourist information centre for a nosey at the whaling and logging exhibits, and chatted to the two teenagers looking after it – we were quite possibly their only visitors that afternoon. And then it was an about turn; back along the 40 mile dirt road to Gold River – 80 miles to visit a deserted place like this might sound a bit odd but it was a very enjoyable day and it was cool and one of the most memorable riding days of the trip.
Tahsis Travel Infocentre and Museum.
Reflections on a lake near Tahsis.
The road to (and from) Tahsis.
The town of Gold River was a bit of an odd one. There were lots of buildings but it seemed empty – no cars, no pedestrians, and silence. We ate burgers at a pub close by with a great view over the surrounding area that was run by a Scot who’d recently bought and refurbished it. Our motel was huge, split across two sides of the road with what must have been 60 rooms, but there was only us and one other couple staying there. We chatted to them over breakfast, they were trying out cycle touring for the first time on a short trip of a couple of days as a test before heading out on a week-long trip later in the year.
Lake near Gold River.
Go here for part two…
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