Botanical Beach offers a plethora of aquatic flora and fauna

Hiker on boardwalk to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

Hiking in to Botany Bay

What a scramble!  But boy, was it worth it.  When we headed to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew recently we tried to time our visit with low tide.  The beach is named for the teeming sea life found in the tidal pools which are, of course, only visible when the tide is out.

Hiker at botanical Beach near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island

Botanical Beach is at its’ most intriguing best at low tide

The trip to this spot dictated a bit of a change in plans in order to accommodate the tide schedule, but we felt it was worth that for the opportunity to experience one of Vancouver Island’s most interesting  seashore locations.

Botanical Beach is so named after being chosen as a University of Minnesota

Botany Bay near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island

Botany Bay – a little wilder, with crashing surf

Marine Station in 1900.  For seven years students and researchers from around the world travelled to what was then a very remote location to study marine life.  Access was by steamship from Victoria, followed by a very muddy and rough hike from Port Renfrew.  When the promised improved access failed to materialize the university abandoned the site, leaving it to the wild creatures that had been the attraction in the first place.

Bull kelp at Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

There is plenty of marine life to find and enjoy at both locations

The scramble for us came with getting to the beach.  Signage indicated that there was a 2.5 kilometre (1 ½ mile) loop trail connecting Botany Bay and Botanical Beach and, although we started out just fine we did find ourselves traversing some pretty rough trails, ending up at Botany Bay rather than Botanical Beach, which had been our intention.  We weren’t sure if we had somehow lost the trail and ended up off the proverbial ‘beaten path’, but we persevered and were rewarded with views of crashing surf and dramatic foreshore at Botany Bay.

Waves at Botany Bay near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island

Waves crash through and around sandstone rock formations at Botany Bay

Following some exploration of the wild side at Botany Bay, we found a short  linking trail that led us to the more serene Botanical Beach, home of the former marine station.  The plethora of sea life, both plant and animal, was striking and intriguing and we spent a good hour peering into the sandstone tide pools and wandering along the seaweed-strewn shoreline.

Trail to Botany Bay near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island The hike back wasn’t overly difficult, but it would have been great if the loop trail had been properly posted. Botanical Beach is a provincial park, so it would be nice if the government would spend a few bucks to make sure folks don’t get lost or off-track as we obviously did.

A word of warning here – at low tide the beaches are very slippery, so good footwear is advised.  And keep an eye on the tide and the waves – it wouldn’t be difficult to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This is, after all, the wild Pacific.

            Further information about Botanical Beach and Botany Bay can be found on the website:

http://www.portrenfrew.com/botbeach.htm

Botanical Beach and Botany Bay are located near Port Renfrew.

GPS co-ordinates for the parking lot are:

Lat. 48.532786418930684  Long. -124.44397460225423

N 48 31.967  E 48 31.967

 

Posted in DOG-FRIENDLY, KID FRIENDLY, WEST COAST | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summertime bliss at Sproat Lake Landing

Gateway to Sproat Lake at Sproat Lake Landing

Looking down to Sproat Lake from Sproat Lake Landing

The essence of summertime bliss.  That was what we found when we made the 45-minute jaunt cross-Island to the newly-opened Sproat Lake Landing near Port Alberni.

View from room at Sproat Lake Landing Inn

The view from our lakefront room

Located at the site of the old West Bay Hotel on the shores of spectacular Sproat Lake, the Sproat Lake Landing complex is comprised of a boutique hotel, Drinkwater’s Social House pub/dining room, Della’s Café and convenience store and a liquor outlet – everything anyone could want when vacationing several miles from the nearest commercial centre.  An additional bonus: a replica tug that offers tours of the 10,000 acre lake and its 188 miles of shoreline.

Hamburger at Drinkwater's social House, Sproat Lake Landing

The house burger – no lack of good food here!

We arrived late on a steaming-hot Friday afternoon and checked in to our beautifully-designed – and, thankfully, air conditioned – lakefront room. Sweeping views of lake and mountains greeted us from our small private patio, along with the opportunity to enjoy the activity of beavers who inhabit the beaver lodge directly below us.

Drinkwater's Social House at Sproat Lake Landing

Always a popular spot on a fine summer evening, the patios at Drinkwater’s Social House were crammed

Our room was one of the most efficiently designed we have had the pleasure of occupying – lots of sensible storage space for our travelling gear, king sized comfortable bed, wood accents (including tree stump bedside tables) that added a bit of rustic to the modern decor and a tip of the hat to the logging industry that has sustained the Alberni Valley for decades.

Patio seating at Drinkwater's Social House at Sproat Lake Landing, Port Alberni

Brunch on the patio at Drinkwater’s Social House

We enjoyed two meals downstairs at Drinkwater’s Social House.  We had dinner in the dining room due to the extreme heat outdoors, working our way through a tasty spinach dip before consuming our main courses of the Clayoquot shrimp clubhouse and the house burger, both served with hand-cut fries and house-made ketchup..  Brunch on Saturday morning was equally delightful, with some great and interesting flavour combinations.  My husband opted for the Sproat Lake Eggs Benedict, a sublime combination of chard, pine nuts, ricotta cheese, mushrooms and farm fresh eggs topped with the standard Hollandaise.  I worked my way through three lovely light lemon ricotta pancakes and a large house-made sausage.

Lemon ricotta pancakes at Drinkwater's Social House, Sproat Lake Landing, Port Alberni

Lemon ricotta pancakes and house-made sausage – unique and yummy flavour combinations

Drinkwater’s is making a special effort to source ingredients locally and to combine them into interesting and flavourful menu offerings.  The excellent food combined with the choice of dining in the pub, dining room or on the beautiful patio is obviously appealing to a lot of folks – the evening that we were there droves of patrons were coming from all over the lake by boat to enjoy a meal or a beverage. It was one of those iconic summertime tableaus that make you realize how very good life can be.

Drinkwater IV tugboat at Sproat Lake Landing, Port Alberni

The Drinkwater IV, a replica of the tugboat that served lake residents and businesses in the mid -1900s

Saturday morning post-breakfast found us hustling down the wharf to board the aforementioned tug, the Drinkwater IV.  Captained by Sproat Lake Landing owner Jeff Stephenson, the great little craft took us on a lengthy tour of some of the notable spots around the lake.   We were thrilled to see the world-famous Martin Mars water bomber, which calls Sproat Lake home.  Then it was on to a wall full of petroglyphs that no one seems able to date, and off around the lake to take in Massacre Island, what is left of Klitsa Lodge, a viewing of Vanderbilt Island and of many, many cottages and homes that have been in families for generations.

Jeff Stephenson on the Drinkwater IV at Sproat Lake Landing, Port Alberni

Captain Jeff Stephenson, affable host and partner at Sproat Lake Landing

There is a lot of intriguing history in the lake area, and we were delighted when Jeff recounted some of the stories about celebrities like Emily Carr, Walt Disney, Cornelius Vanderbilt and dozens of others who made arduous journeys in order to enjoy the splendour of the area.  It was a most interesting and very beautiful tour of Port Alberni’s traditional cottage country.

Petroglyphs at Sproat Lake, Port Alberni

Petroglyphs, seen on the lake tour

All-told, the combination of all the above factors made for one of the most relaxing and engaging get-aways we have enjoyed.  Great friendly staff abounds at Sproat Lake Landing enhancing the beautiful sunsets, the moon rises, the lovely hotel rooms, the spectacular views, the wildlife viewing, the great food, the people watching and the laid back vibe. Can’t say enough good things about this one – can’t wait to go back!

Klitsa Lodge, Sproat Lake, Port Alberni

What is left of the once-revered Klitsa Lodge, visited by luminaries from all over the world

Further information on Sproat Lake Landing and all it has to offer can be found at the website:

http://www.sproatlakelanding.com/welcome

Price rating for Drinkwater’s Social House: $$

 Sproat Lake Landing is located at 10695 Lakeshore Road, Port Alberni

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.285386  Long. -124.975844

N 49 17.123 -124.975844

Posted in ACCOMMODATIONS, DOG-FRIENDLY, INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parksville Farmers Market offers unique heritage ambiance

Not your average farmers market - you can wander amongst heritage buildings at this one

Not your average farmers market – you can wander amongst heritage buildings at this one

There are farmers markets, and then there are farmers markets. Some are focused entirely on foodstuffs and plants, with no room for crafters.  Others are an eclectic mix offering up a huge variety of almost anything your heart could desire.  Usually, though, the settings are very similar – blocked-off streets or some sort of rural setting. That’s where the Parksville Farmers Market is unique, and charmingly so.

Just in to its second year, the Parksville market calls the Craig Heritage Park and  museum grounds home, providing an intriguing backdrop for the vegetables, baked goods, crafts, flower vendors and picnic area.

Who can resist a lovely bouquet of fresh flowers?

Who can resist a lovely bouquet of fresh flowers?

The market isn’t as large or concentrated as the neighbouring Saturday morning fixture in Qualicum Beach, and it doesn’t attract as many customers. But for us, meandering along on a fine summer Friday evening, that was a lot of the charm of this one.  There is more of a family feel to the affair rather than the hustle and bustle found at many of the larger markets.

A great place for a casual family dinner......

A great place for a casual family dinner……

The smallness of the Parksville market means that you won’t find as many vendors, and you certainly won’t find the huge array of fruits and vegetables that you discover at bigger events.  But there is enough there to satisfy the grocery needs of anyone who cares to look – organic vegetables, artisan sausages, fine baking, pasta, meat products – they are all there.

Organic vegetables from Nanoose Edibles

Organic vegetables from Nanoose Edibles

I think a lot of the relaxed atmosphere comes from the fact that there are picnic tables set out where folks can enjoy a wood-fired pizza for dinner and linger on a lovely evening. We saw several young families partaking of the experience – a night off from the kitchen for Mom that served double duty. And of course, there is the requisite live music that seems to be at pretty much every market these days.  Musicians set up on the steps of the heritage church – a lot more interesting than your average venue for them, too, I suspect.

The picnic area adds to the unique ambiance of the market

The picnic area adds to the unique ambiance of the market

The other bonus in attending the Parksville Museum Farmers Market is that all of the museum’s heritage buildings are open, allowing those attending to wander through and learn about the lives of yesteryear in the area. We greatly enjoyed that aspect of the market and will probably return at some point specifically because of it.

The Parksville Museum Farmers Market runs every Friday night from 5 – 8 p.m. from early summer through the Thanksgiving weekend in October.  Further information on the market can be obtained at the website:

            http://parksvillemuseum.ca/events/

Craig Heritage Park and Museum is located at 1245 East Island Highway in Parksville.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.305032  Long. -124.259405

N 49 18.302  W 124 15.564

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, FARMERS MARKETS, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Middle of nowhere at Port Renfrew’s Soule Creek Lodge

Spectacular views, pretty gardens, amazing meals and peace and quiet are the hallmarks of Soule Creek Lodge

Spectacular views, pretty gardens, amazing meals and peace and quiet are the hallmarks of Soule Creek Lodge

No television.  No phones in the rooms. No traffic noise.  No fun?  Heavens, no! It was all the ‘nos’ that made us fall in love with Soule Creek Lodge in Port Renfrew, and a whole bunch of positives.

Our room was small but very comfortable

Our room was small but very comfortable

We stayed two nights at Soule Creek, which has been operated since 2001 by brothers Jon and Tim Cash.  Perched 600 feet above sea level at the top of a two kilometre (1.25 miles) uphill gravel road, the lodge dominates the skyline.  There are sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains…and dead silence, thanks to the fact that the building is situated on 160 acres owned by the brothers.

Dinner at the lodge - the freshest ingredients combined with a deft hand

Dinner at the lodge – the freshest ingredients combined with a deft hand

We checked in after a long day of exploring the spectacular beaches of the southwest coast and found ourselves in a small-but-comfortable room that had a true rustic ‘lodge’ feeling to it. There was a small sitting area through the sliding doors, and a couple of easy chairs in the room gave us a second happy place to relax.

The spacious dining room affords spectacular views

The spacious dining room affords spectacular views

After a strenuous day of hiking we were looking forward to dinner at the lodge, which is a set prix fixe menu.  Both Jon and Tim are experienced chefs and the promise of a meal that focused on local products had us in anticipatory delight.  We certainly weren’t disappointed on that front.

After getting settled in to our room we hauled our tired bodies up the stairs to the spacious dining room.  The three-course meal commenced with a green salad so fresh it almost jumped off the plate.  Combined with pine nuts and kale chips and topped with an avocado oil dressing, it left us both impressed and looking forward to the main course.

Dessert.....

Dessert…..

No disappointment on that front, either. A beautiful plate featuring fresh water steelhead topped with a beurre blanc sauce brimming with shrimp, a perfectly cooked medley of fresh vegetables and an inspired couscous with organic English peas, corn, lemon juice, mint and lime leaf proved to be a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. We have a penchant for interesting food that combines unique flavours without going over the top, and this main certainly fit the bill in that respect. The Cash brothers have an innate talent for combining ingredients with a deft hand, of which I am so envious.

Dessert – a luscious blueberry/raspberry crumble accompanied by house-made strawberry ice cream – topped off the meal.  At the end of it all we were replete, but not feeling overly-stuffed.

Unique artwork abounds in the dining room

Unique artwork abounds in the dining room

Dinners are only available to guests staying at the lodge, and for $38 a head they are one heck of a wonderful deal.  This is most definitely not your average fishing lodge ‘grub’ – it is more akin to haute cuisine, without all the fancy details – clean, fresh flavours simply served. And, a bonus for those who like an alcoholic beverage with their meal – you can take your own choice to the dining room with you.  Soule Creek doesn’t have a liquor license, but there is no corkage fee when guests supply their own liquor.

We slept soundly in a comfortable bed that night and headed upstairs the next morning to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast.  While my husband chose a larger meal consisting of bacon, farm-fresh eggs, blueberry pancakes and fruit salad I was able to opt for a smaller repast featuring the items of my choice, in the quantities that I requested.  I liked that aspect of the breakfasts at Soule Creek – the wait staff is happy to take individual orders rather than just put the prescribed ‘breakfast of the day’ on the table in front of you.  Nice, too, that the lodge accommodates special diets.

Breakfasts, large or small,  are included with your stay

Breakfasts, large or small, are included with your stay

After breakfast and before heading off to explore more beaches we took a wander around the property, enjoying the gardens and spectacular views.  Our only regret from our entire experience at Soule Creek was that we didn’t book dinner there both nights that we were in residence. We opted instead for a more famous but nowhere-near-as-good restaurant down the road.  Won’t make that mistake again!

            Further information on Soule Creek Lodge can be found at:

http://soulecreeklodge.com/

            The lodge is located at the top of Powder Main Road in Port Renfrew.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  48.543948  Long. -124.413385

N 48 32.637  W 124 24.803

Posted in ACCOMMODATIONS, KID FRIENDLY, WEST COAST, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fairy magic at Milner Gardens

One of our favourite fairy houses - the attention to detail in all of the creations is amazing

One of our favourite fairy houses – the attention to detail in all of the creations is amazing

When the lives of children are so caught up these days with scheduled activities, the cyber world and the hard business of growing up in modern times, it’s refreshing to find a place and occasion where magic, timelessness and imagination predominate.  We found that recently at the annual Milner Gardens fairy festival.  Even the grown-ups were enchanted.

This one came complete with a fairy-sized hammock....

This one came complete with a fairy-sized hammock….

Every year around the summer solstice, the story goes, the fairies at Qualicum Beach’s Milner Gardens and Woodland allow their homes to be visible to humans.  This year no less than 50 of the miniscule dwellings appeared, tucked into the woodland and gardens, hidden amongst shade-dappled trails.

Tea in the fairy garden....

Tea in the fairy garden….

Created by volunteers, the fairy houses ran the gamut, from the very simplest and most basic to elaborate.  There were fairy homes created from wood bark, dried ferns, moss, bird nests, teeny tiny bits and pieces gleaned from woods and beach. Visitors were guided to them by ribbons hung from branches with notes asking to please not touch the houses, as the fairies would probably be napping.

Human fairies were also plentiful

Human fairies were also plentiful

It wasn’t just the houses that enchanted, though.  Many of them were surrounded by tableaus that were evocative of a slower, gentler life.  Miniscule ladders led to tiny swings, miniature hand-made tables and chairs were located in petite garden settings that suggested a fairy tea was about to commence.  There were tiny hammocks, tiny beds, tiny patios, pathways, floral displays.  Some fairy houses hung from branches while others were tucked among the woodland beauty that is Milner. All of them fired the imagination and brought magic to the day.

Another beautiful creation

Another beautiful creation

The other great thing about this event is that the children (and some of the adults, too!) really get in to the spirit, There were dozens of fairies of the human variety, complete with fancy dresses and wings, flitting about the gardens.

Be-ribboned signs helped show the way to the hidden houses

Be-ribboned signs helped show the way to the hidden houses

We spent a good 90 minutes seeking out the hidden gems, then wandered along to the historic and very lovely Milner house where tea, lemonade and fairy cakes were being served in the shade of the back terrace. I can never say enough about the dedicated ladies who volunteer their time to run the inside tea room and outdoor venues for special events like this – they offer superb, cheerful service every time we are there, along with tasty sustenance.

Human fairies need sustenance too - fairy cakes and lemonade on the terrace at the house

Human fairies need sustenance too – fairy cakes and lemonade on the terrace at the house

We finished the day by purchasing a couple of jars of the house-made jams on offer at the house.  Created with fruit from the gardens, they are some of the best, and proceeds go to supporting the heritage treasure that has become a popular destination for residents and visitors alike.            Fairy signSo, thanks to Veronica Milner, her belief in fairies and the many staff and volunteers who keep her vision alive and thriving, another delightful event at Milner Gardens and Woodland. We are so fortunate to have this beautiful estate on the Island, and to have it open to the public.wheelchair-m

            Further information on Milner Gardens and Woodland and coming events can be found at the website:

            https://www2.viu.ca/milnergardens/

            Milner Gardens is located at 2179 West Island Highway, Qualicum Beach

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 49.353670  Long. -124.414487

            N 49 21.220  W 124 24.869

Posted in ATTRACTIONS, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bird’s Eye Cove Pizza Night offers the best of all worlds

Can there be any more beautiful venue for an al fresco dinner?

Can there be any more beautiful venue for an al fresco dinner?

What to do for supper on a lovely early summer evening when all of your favourite restaurants (and the new ones you would like to try) are closed? We were faced with exactly this conundrum during a recent trip to the Duncan area, but found a very happy solution with Pizza Night at Bird’s Eye Cove Farm.

Fresh made-to-order pizza from a wood-fired oven.....

Fresh made-to-order pizza from a wood-fired oven…..

Bird’s Eye Cove is a working farm that sprawls over 300 acres (121 hectares) of rolling fields and forest.  Founded in 1860, the spectacular site embraces breathtaking views of bucolic bliss and, of course, of Bird’s Eye Cove.

The final result

The final result

The Pizza Nights are held on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the fine weather months and have obviously become a happy tradition for area residents – when we arrived at 6 p.m., two hours after opening, the parking area was pretty much full.  Often the food is all gone well before the 8 p.m. ‘closing’ time, which says legions about the popularity of this new – now in to its third year – Cowichan Valley tradition.

Pizza picnic dinner on the grass.  Dogs, kids - everyone is welcome

Pizza picnic dinner on the grass. Dogs, kids – everyone is welcome

One of the beauties of this venue is that it is so relaxed, very informal and very welcoming of kids and dogs.  There are a number of picnic tables available for larger groups, small bistro tables for couples and, of course, green grass that invites the spreading of a blanket and a dining experience at ground level. Bird’s Eye Cove doesn’t have a liquor license, but patrons are welcome to bring along their own alcoholic liquid refreshments.

The pizza menu varies from night to night, but is always entertaining

The pizza menu varies from night to night, but is always entertaining

The pizza menu is a saucy affair with fun descriptions of the many local ingredients that go into creating the culinary delights.  The offerings vary depending on the night, and can include anything from a vegetarian creation to the Drunken Cow, made with a bourbon barbecue sauce.

Pizzas are all made to order and baked in the wood-fired outdoor brick oven. Mason jar vegetables and fruit are offered as ‘sides’ along with a variety of cold beverages.

For larger groups there are picnic tables.....

For larger groups there are picnic tables…..

Although the folks in the outdoor kitchen were busy with orders when we arrived we were made very welcome. We placed our own order, then proceeded to find a small bistro table that looked down the long sweep of fields to the cove. We spent a few minutes watching bald eagles, turkey vultures and swallows while we waited.  It was the perfect start to several days of travel – warm summer breeze, lovely evening, great views and a totally laid-back ambiance.

Good food and a view like this - it doesn't get any better on a lovely summer's evening

Good food and a view like this – it doesn’t get any better on a lovely summer’s evening

And then, our pizza arrived – which was quite simply the icing on the cake. Great ingredients in generous portions left us savouring the last crumbs.  We lingered for quite a while after our dinner, enjoying the relaxed vibe and partaking of some people-watching, before wandering back to our van and heading back to our bed and breakfast for the night. It was without a doubt the best start to a trip that I can remember in a long, long time, putting us in the right frame of mind.  Proof, I guess, that simple, honest food served in naturally breathtaking surroundings is the best.

Bird’s Eye Cove offers the pizza nights rain or shine – there is heated indoor seating available in the event of inclement weather.

            Further information on Bird’s Eye Cove Farm can be found at the website:

http://birdseyecovefarm.com/

            The farm is located at 5881 Genoa Bay Road, Duncan

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 48.786863  Long. -123.60065400000002

            N 48 47.212    W 123 36.039

Posted in DOG-FRIENDLY, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

French and Sandcut Beaches – two different experiences

Sandcut Beach

Sandcut Beach

Back to the beaches!  With the amazing weather we have been having over the past few months beaches tend to be a natural draw for us.  So, it’s a happy thing that there are so many of them here on the Island, ranging from wild to serene.  This week we are chronicling two beaches on the southwest coast of the Island that are as different as chalk and cheese.

The trail to French Beach is very easily traversed

The trail to French Beach is very easily traversed

We began our adventure at French Beach Provincial Park, located about 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) west of the town of Sooke.  Of all the beaches we have explored on the Island this is one of what I call the most ‘civilized’.

French Beach is a great choice for day trippers, who will find all sorts of amenities including picnic tables, benches and firepits

French Beach is a great choice for day trippers, who will find all sorts of amenities including picnic tables, benches and firepits

The park encompasses 59 hectares (145 acres) of woodland and waterfront, with exceptionally easy access – parts of it are even wheelchair-friendly.  An easy walk from the parking lot on well-groomed trails leads to a sheltered grassy area along the waterfront that features great picnicking and day use possibilities – tables, benches and fire pits are all there.

Campsites at French Beach are easily accessed

Campsites at French Beach are easily accessed

There are also drive-in campsites that are about a 10-minute walk from the beach for those who might want to stick around for a while and explore the park thoroughly, or spend time watching the migration in the Spring and Autumn of the 20,000 gray whales that pass through the area.

The beach is pebble, or cobble and is one of the fairly calm areas along the west coast, so no dramatic surf scenes – just a serene environment that invites visitors to stay a while and enjoy the peace and quiet.

The hike into Sandcut Beach is a little more rigorous...

The hike into Sandcut Beach is a little more rigorous…

From French Beach we ventured up to Sandcut Beach, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish!

Sandcut is wilder and rougher than French Beach – an interesting contrast in view of the fact that they are only 11 kilometres (7 miles) apart, with Sandcut located further west, towards Port Renfrew.

Looking west along Sandcut Beach

Looking west along Sandcut Beach

The hike in to Sandcut is a rough trail featuring boardwalk, tree roots and variable footing that calls for good footwear. The beach is part of a 181  hectare (447 acres) park reserve, but there are no services either along the trail or at the beach itself.

What you will find if you venture along the rather steep trail, however, is a taste of the wild not found at French Beach.  In addition to the cobble beach there are sandstone outcrops, waterfalls and an untamed beauty that, to us, is more the essence of the west coast.

Both of these beaches are do-able in a single day if you start out in reasonable time.  Pack a lunch and liquid refreshment, and enjoy!

            Further information on French and Sandcut Beaches can be found at the following websites:

            http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/french_bch/

            http://discoversooke.com/outdoor-activities/beaches/sandcut-beach/

            Both beaches are located along Highway #14, also known as the West Coast Road.

            GPS Co-ordinates are:

            For French Beach:wheelchair-l

            Lat. 48.39523666881147  Long. -123.94248681933595

            N 48 23.714   W 123 56.549

             For Sandcut Beach (approximately)

            Lat. 48.418050   Long. -124.021508

            N 48 25.083   W 124 01.290

Posted in DOG-FRIENDLY, KID FRIENDLY, WEST COAST, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Qualicum Beach’s Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine attracts fans (and cars) of all ages for a great day of family fun

Vintage Car at Seaside Cruizers

Vehicles of all shapes, sizes and ages compete at the Show ‘n Shine

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fan of things vehicular.  But every year in mid-June I am drawn to the streets of downtown Qualicum Beach for the annual Seaside Cruizers Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine – there are just too many great sights to miss out on, and the local club has managed to turn this in to a great family event that has something for every member of the family.

Crowds at Seaside Cruizers Show 'n Shine

Thousands of people from far and wide show up to enjoy the day

            The show is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year.  It has grown and flourished to the point where upwards of 700 vintage vehicles from near and far invade the area for the weekend.  The combination of the pretty venue of the village of Qualicum Beach and the hundreds of amazing vehicles has become such a draw, in fact, that it was mentioned on the Oprah Winfrey show as one of the 10 best things to do on Father’s Day.

Face painting at Seaside Cruizers Show 'n Shine

Children enjoy many activities, including the face painting

While things get under way for the show participants on the Friday preceding Father’s Day, events for the general public gear up on Saturday night with a street dance in downtown Qualicum Beach. The entire downtown area is wired for sound, and music from the 1950s and 60s drifts through the streets during the day of the show ‘n shine, adding even more of a vintage flavour to the day.

            Although I have no particular interest in cars other than having them get me where I want to go, I am always amazed at the huge variety of vehicles on display at this event, and at the countless hours of devotion so obviously poured in to them. Every square inch of the exhibits, inside and out, gleams. A few hours spent wandering the streets of the village gets spectators a complete lesson on the history of motorized transport, in a most enchanting way.

Lunch in the village square in Qualicum Beach

Visitors enjoy lunch in the village square

            Over the years the event has evolved to be an all-inclusive family event.  There is face-painting for the kids and the downtown business association organizes a ladies Shop and Walk event, complete with prizes. Those attending can take in the Shriners Pancake Breakfast, located right in the heart of the shopping area, and lunch is available throughout the day from the many restaurants and food vendors.

            Thousands of visitors show up for this event, so if you plan to go be prepared to park your vehicle and walk a block or two to get to the heart of the action. Comfortable footwear is highly recommended.

Restored interior of vintage car

It’s not just the exteriors of the vintage cars that are immaculately restored…

            The 2014 event gets under way for the general public on Saturday, June 14 with a street dance featuring live music from 6 – 10 p.m.  Sunday, June 15 (Father’s Day) features the car show, pancake breakfast from 7:30 – 11 a.m., the ladies walk and shop from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., entertainment for the children, and a performance by the Arrowsmith Pipe Band at noon. Things wrap up at 2:30 with trophy and awards presentations.

            Further information on the Seaside Cruizers and the show ‘n shine can be found at the organization’s website:

www.seasidecruizers.comwheelchair-m

IgnitedGPS co-ordinates for the Father’s Day Show ‘n Shine are:

Lat.: 49.347220922291704  Long. -124.4416880607605

N 49 20.833  W 124 26.

Posted in EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, EVENTS, KID FRIENDLY | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Shirley Delicious is….just that

Shirley Delicious

Well, I just couldn’t do it.  How could I possibly bypass a little hole-in-the wall restaurant that combined my name with the word delicious? There was no option but to seek out  Shirley Delicious during our recent Pacific Marine Circle Route junket,  And there were certainly no regrets that we did.

Shirley Delicious is situated off Highway 14 in the tiny community of Shirley, located between Sooke and Jordan River. It is undeniably one of the cheeriest, most welcoming spots in which we have ever enjoyed a meal.

The ordering area, fronted by a display case with home-made delectables

The ordering area, fronted by a display case with home-made delectables

Obviously a favoured neighbourhood hangout – conversations centre around subjects like midwives and local politics – Shirley Delicious is a bustling double A-frame structure that hosts a variety of local characters and tourists.  Walk in the front door and the first thing you encounter is a display case crammed with scrumptious-looking baked goods.

Lunch, anyone?

Lunch, anyone?

The beverage and sandwich menus are posted on chalkboards, so it’s a matter of bellying up to the order counter, telling the friendly staff what you want and then heading off to lounge in either one of the pretty outdoor garden areas or hunkering down indoors, where warm colours predominate. Indoor tables are discreetly divided off by rustic willow and bamboo dividers, affording a nice bit of privacy,

Warm hues and bright blues make for a cheery interior

Warm hues and bright blues make for a cheery interior

The wide range of made-from-scratch delectables on offer at Shirley Delicious is impressive, to say the least.  There are several panini sandwiches with mostly-unpronounceable names available, along with the aforementioned baked goods.  There are also items catering to those who prefer raw, gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan options.

SD Soup and SandwichMy husband opted for the excellent corn and bacon chowder and a Sgarabottolo (see what I mean about the pronunciation problem?) panini, stuffed with capicolo, tuscan ham, havarti and caramelized onion. I went for the more pronounceable Conversano panini,  chock full of roasted leeks, eggplant, bell pepper, zuchinni, brie and avocado.  Needless to say, neither of us left hungry and we were thanking our lucky stars that we were planning a fairly vigorous hike that afternoon to work some of it off.  We picked up a couple of the generously-sized house-made mouth-watering muffins to take along on our adventure, but found we really didn’t need them.

There are several outdoor dining areas

There are several outdoor dining areas

The great, cheerful service, the warm, funky ambiance and the excellent food at very reasonable prices would have left us in a happy enough state of mind,  But the added bonus of such innovative flavour combinations (Egglant? Leeks? In the middle of nowhere???)  was a delightful surprise that, in our minds, really puts Shirley Delicious over the top. Nice to see, and delightful on the palate.

Shirley Delicious doesn’t have a website, but you can find out more about their hours and their food on their Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/ShirleyDelicious

Price rating: $ – $$

Shirley Delicious is located at 2794 Sheringham Point Road, off Highway 14.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat:  48.388901  Long: -123.905179

N 48 23.334   W 123 54.311

Posted in DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, WEST COAST, WHERE TO EAT | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sombrio Beach offers ethereal beauty and interesting history

 

Sombrio Footprints

There is an ethereal beauty to Sombrio Beach.  Perhaps it is the salt spray and ever-pounding surf, or the endless miles of cobble beach, the waterfalls and caves, the never-ending horizon that looks out to the wild Pacific.  Or maybe it is the unique history of the place.  Whatever it is (and I suspect it is a combination of all of these factions) it has become one of my favourite spots on the southwest coast of the Island.

The walk down to Sombrio Beach is an easy one

The walk down to Sombrio Beach is an easy one

Sombrio Beach is situated along remote Highway 14, part of the Pacific Marine Circle Route. Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) south of Port Renfrew, it retains much of the wild splendour that first attracted surfers and a community of squatters to it in the 1960s.

Surfing is still a popular pastime at Sombrio

Surfing is still a popular pastime at Sombrio

The surfers continue to come to the beach; the squatters, including one family that raised 10 children there, were kicked off the beach in 1997 when the provincial government moved in to create park space.  Several of them continue to live in the Port Renfrew area and often visit Sombrio, to surf and to reminisce.

Sombrio is part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, so it's not unusual to see heavily-laden hikers trekking along the beach

Sombrio is part of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, so it’s not unusual to see heavily-laden hikers trekking along the beach

Getting to Sombrio takes a little perseverance.  The access road off paved Highway 14 is 2.8 kilometres (1.75 miles) of totally unmaintained, pothole-filled gravel disaster owned by a logging company.  Once you get past that however there is plenty of good parking and a wide, easily traversed gravel trail down to the beach. You can take one of two directions, each half a kilometer (1/3 mile) to the beach.

We chose the left fork in hopes of seeing some of the waterfalls along the beach.  There is an exceptionally lovely one located back off the beach, a First Nations sacred site that, unfortunately, has been defaced and in the not-too-distant future may have access blocked because of the disrespectful graffiti that now adorns the moss-covered surroundings.  There are also a couple of other waterfalls well over a mile along the beach, but the tides were working against us and we were unable to access them on this trip.

There are caves to explore along the beach, and waterfalls

There are caves to explore along the beach, and waterfalls

We had a long discussion with the park ranger, who pointed out a very rocky outcrop with caves hidden in it.  Exploration of that area certainly brings home the power of the sea and of nature – sheer cliffs with huge trees hanging off them loomed over us as we clambered around.

But for me, the stunning cobble beach was what captured my heart. Every step brought a profusion of photo opportunities – the stones along our pathway came in all shapes, sizes, colours and textures. The power of the ocean and an eternity of wind and weather were revealed in every step. (The rocks made for some tough walking, but it was well worth it).

Wilderness camping has a long tradition at Sombrio, and is still popular today

Wilderness camping has a long tradition at Sombrio, and is still popular today

We lingered for a long while during our visit, reveling in the wild, sweeping vistas, the untamed and ever-changing surf and the timeless mysteries of the natural world. We were mesmerized for so long, in fact, that we didn’t leave ourselves enough time to take the right fork of the trail to explore the second area set aside for wilderness camping. But that’s just fine with me – there is always next time, and my heart tells me that there will, indeed, be a next time.

If you can’t get to Sombrio Beach, I highly recommend Manly Media’s one-hour documentary ‘Sombrio’, available for rent through Vimeo or for purchase.  It is an excellent piece chronicling the beauty of the place and the history of the squatter community.

            The best way to find Sombrio Beach is to keep your eyes peeled for the directional signs on Highway 14.

            GPS co-ordinates are (roughly):

            Lat. 48.479236  Long. -124.272294

            N 48 28.754  W 124 16.338

 

Posted in DOG-FRIENDLY, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES, WEST COAST | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment