Hiking Nanoose’s Enos Lake

Beaver pond at Enos Lake trail, Nanoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the beaver ponds to be found along the trail

I came away from a recent hike at Nanoose’s Enos Lake with mixed feelings. We struck out on a beautiful autumn day – our second attempt to hike the area after being turned back because of dangerously dry conditions in late summer.

The 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) of hiking trails surrounding the lake offer up a mix of interesting wildlife habitats that may have hikers viewing everything from several varieties of dragon flies to beavers and a good cross-section of bird life and aquatic creatures. Enos Lake, which is surprisingly large, is also home to the endangered limnetic Enos Lake stickleback. From a keen naturalist’s point of view this excursion is a worthwhile one. All told, the area covers 121 hectares (300 acres).

Enos Lake trail, Nanoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Parts of the trail are very pretty; others can be pretty rough

Those seeking a simple hike, however, may come away with a different impression. None of the information I could find on the Enos Lake trails indicated that there was anything but smooth sailing with, at worst, a few hills. That impression came to a skidding halt almost as soon as we started out, clambering downhill on a rough and rocky surface. Things settled down after that as we explored what we thought was known as the Enos Creek Loop and Enchanted Forest. Looking at the attached map I am pretty sure that was where we were actually adventuring, but a lack of good directional signs (there was only one that we ran across during our 4.3 kilometre hike) still has me wondering.

Enos Lake, Nanoose, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A glimpse of Enos Lake, home to the endangered Enos Lake stickleback

Our tramp led us past beaver lodges and ponds, through woods and along some fairly decent trails. However, there were disappointingly few views of Enos Lake itself and we certainly never encountered what could be described as a lake vista. We finally hit a dead end when we came upon a foot bridge that had been destroyed by a falling tree. We hiked up hill, clambered over another downed tree and continued the ascent for some time on a rough trail, eventually re-connecting with the Enos Creek Loop from whence we had started.

There are other trails extending off the loop we took that I would like to explore some day. Hopefully they are better marked and better maintained than our recent choice. In the meantime, if you decide to tackle this adventure make sure you are reasonably fit and have good footwear.

It should be noted that these trails are not within a regional or provincial park system, but are owned by the Fairwinds community in the area. This probably explains some of the lack of maintenance. Dogs are welcome on the trails, on-leash.

More information (and a good map) on the Enos Lake trails can be found at:

https://www.google.ca/maps/place/49%C2%B016’43.6%22N+124%C2%B009’51.1%22W/@49.2787778,-124.1663831,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d49.2787778!4d-124.1641944?hl=en

The starting point for the trail system offers a small parking lot off Powder Point Road in Nanoose.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.278839 Long. -124.163868

49° 16′ 43.8204” N 124° 9′ 49.9248” W

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Qualicum Beach’s Moonlight Madness

Christmas lights at village square, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The festivities kick off at the beautifully-decorated village square

There’s nothing better than sparkling lights, special treats, beautiful displays and Christmas music to put one in the mood for the yuletide season. The Qualicum Beach merchants do a bang-up job of kicking off the festive season with their annual Moonlight Madness event, this year scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 16.

Santa Claus at Moonlight Madness, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Santa Claus, of course, is an integral part of the evening

We usually venture out after dark to take in the event and, rain or clear skies, there are always hundreds of people out enjoying Moonlight Madness along with us. Things get under way at 5:30 p.m. and run until 9 p.m. Virtually all of the local merchants stay open late (an unusual occurrence in Qualicum Beach, where they usually roll up the sidewalks at 6), offering everything from great deals to free popcorn, hot chocolate or mulled cider.

Decorated fire engine at Moonlight Magic, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The volunteer fire department even gets in to the spirit

This year marks the 23rd event for Moonlight Madness, and every time we go there is more to enjoy throughout the evening. It is organized by the Qualicum Beach Downtown Business Association and has become a favourite community fixture over the past couple of decades.

Moonlight Magic at Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Strolling the streets….

The 2017 version of Moonlight Madness kicks off around 5:30 p.m at Glassford Square, more commonly referred to as the village square or town square. Centred by a fountain, the square abuts the town hall with its’ tall clock tower, so it’s not difficult to find.

There will be entertainment at the square, along with a magical light display. The RCMP will be in attendance waiting to welcome Santa Claus, who will then be escorted to the twinkling Santa’s Village, located up Second Avenue at the quaint Chilham Village retail complex.

Light display at Moonlight Madness, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There are beautiful light displays all over the village

Musicians and singers will be scattered throughout the central shopping area of town, and many businesses offer special deals. Most of the restaurants are open for those who might feel the need of a sit-down and a warm drink or more substantial sustenance.

christmas window display at Moonlight Madness, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Festive window displays abound

All-told, Moonlight Madness is a fun evening for folks of all ages. Wandering the festively-lit streets, listening to the town clock tower playing Christmas carols and enjoying the beautiful yuletide window displays and merchandise makes for an inspiring evening in this quintessential small town.

The best spot to begin your Moonlight Madness adventure is around Second Avenue and Memorial, wandering up along Second to take in all the activity and fun.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.347121 Long. -124.441695

N 49 20.827 W 124 26.502

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Nanoose’s Rusted Rake Farm café

Sign at Rusted Rake Farm, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Canada

To say that Nanoose’s newest eatery is off and running is an understatement. Opened in late July of this year, Rusted Rake Farm has been packed with patrons each time we have enjoyed a meal there.

Entry way at Rusted Rake Farm, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

A unique and distinctive entry way

Located off Northwest Bay Road just a spit from the Petro Can station on Highway 19, the Rusted Rake’s purpose-built home is an easy and central find for anyone exploring the wilds of Nanoose. The building is long and low, with an entryway flanked by two massive tree trunks. This is a farm-to-table style establishment, so you line up to order off the menu, find yourself a seat indoors or out and sit down to wait for the day’s offering. Happily, service is generally quick.

Interior of Rusted Rake Farm Cafe, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Interior seating

We have enjoyed lunch at the Rusted Rake a couple of times, opting for a couple of different soups (both flavourful) and sandwiches that were jam-packed with ingredients. I keep trying for their daily quiche but each time we have been there they are sold out – not a surprise for a new restaurant that has been in business for less than three months. Menu management is often a stumbling block for newer enterprises but I am confident that the folks at the Rusted Rake will have it sorted in short order.

Deck at Rusted Rake Farm cafe, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

From the deck….

Covered patio at Rusted Rake Farm cafe, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The covered patio

Much of the food that arrives at tables at the restaurant is produced right on the farm, and many of the offerings are gluten free and/or vegan.

The building itself has much to offer those looking for a casual coffee or lunch experience. The interior is spacious, and features a fireplace and one of those huge glass garage-style doors that can be opened during fine weather. There is an attractive live-edge farm-style long table as well as many seating arrangements that will accommodate smaller parties. My only criticism of the design is that it is noisy when things are busy – it would be nice if the owners could figure out a way to muffle some of the clatter and chatter. But, the high ceilings and plenty of natural light contribute to the spacious feel of the place.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup at Rusted Rake Farm cafe, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Broccoli Cheddar Soup and a scone

Our favourite spot to dine is on the long covered patio at the back of the building. One end features a seating area in the open for those who prefer to enjoy a sit in the sunshine, but the large majority of the patio is covered. Views of open fields and trees add to the country ambiance, making for a less frenetic experience than dining indoors.

So, to the food. Our first visit was for a quick lunch that included a large bowl of fragrant onion soup and a generous ‘cup’ of creamy broccoli-cheddar soup. Each dish was accompanied by a large, freshly-baked scone. Although we had just completed a vigorous hike and were ravenous our appetites were sated by this simple (and inexpensive – $11.50 for everything) indulgence.

Montreal smoked brisket sandwich at Rusted Rake Farm cafe, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Montreal smoked brisket sandwich

Our most recent visit found us ordering one of the sandwich specials of the day – Montreal smoked brisket with sauerkraut – and a turkey/cranberry combo off the regular menu. Each sandwich was packed with the starring protein ingredient, to the point where a single one would probably have satisfied both of us. However, they were both so good that it was no hardship to share and devour both of them. We finished up with a shared piece of excellent chocolate cake with mocha icing (recommended by our waitress, and justly so).

Roast turkey sandwich at Rusted Rake Farm cafe, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Roast turkey sandwich with house-made cranberry sauce

It’s pretty clear that Nanoose residents have welcomed this new addition to their limited dining out scene with open arms. Things at the Rusted Rake will no doubt only get better as the word spreads and the staff gains experience. We look forward to patronizing them in the future – hopefully there will be some quiche still available next time we visit!

Further information on the Rusted Rake can be found on their Facebook page. There is a web site in the works but it is not up and running as we write this.

Price rating: $-$$

Rusted Rake Farm is located at 3106 Northwest Bay Road, Nanoose.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.270566 Long. -124.192688

49° 16′ 14.0376” N      124° 11′ 33.6768” W


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Nanaimo’s Buttertubs Marsh

Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A view of the pretty and serene marsh, located in the heart of Nanaimo

With the feasting, partying and indoor activities of the looming Yuletide season (not to mention this month’s Thanksgiving celebrations) often comes the desire to just get outdoors for a bit of fresh air and exercise. There is a perfect spot right in the heart of Nanaimo that will fulfill that need without killing you if there have been excesses of food and drink in your life of late. Buttertubs Marsh is a lovely, level 100-acre man-made bird sanctuary that offers wide walking trails, peace and quiet and exercise as gentle or rigorous as you care to make it.

Loop trail at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The level loop trail offers varying vistas of the marsh and its inhabitants

We still haven’t managed to figure out why this marsh was given its name.  Buttertubs is actually an area in the Yorkshire Dales of England that features 20-metre (65 feet) limestone potholes.  When farmers were on their way to market during hot weather they would pause to rest at Buttertubs Pass and lower their butter into the potholes to keep it cold.

Hawk at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Looking for lunch…..

Name confusion notwithstanding, the Nanaimo Buttertubs is a lovely spot that offers pretty sights from viewing platforms and the opportunity to enjoy a variety of wildlife in its natural habitat.

Buttertubs Marsh namesake - the buttertubs - in England

The buttertubs in England, where farmers travelling to market would stop for a rest and lower their butter into the chasms to keep it cool

Our outing was pretty quiet wildlife-wise – we apparently had just missed seeing Trumpeter Swans, managed to observe a few ducks and one hungry hawk on the hunt for lunch.  However, it is apparently not uncommon to see great blue herons, mallards, Canada geese, ring-neck ducks, hooded mergansers, and American widgeons. Violet-green swallows and red-winged blackbirds are not unusual in the spring. Virginia Rails and American Bitterns are vocal denizens of Buttertubs Marsh Bird Sanctuary, which is also Vancouver Island’s only documented breeding site of American Bitterns.

Wooden whimsy at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Someone with a sense of humour dressed up a downed tree

Regardless of the lack of ‘things on the wing’ – or in the marsh, for that matter – we ambled along greatly enjoying the various views and the crisp, sunny day.  English oaks arch over the trail at several points, and hawthorn and blackberry bushes provide a cornucopia of feeding options for the winged residents.

Buttertubs Pass in England - Buttertubs Marsh namesake

Buttertubs Pass in England

There are a number of benches located along the trail, and a raised viewing platform offers the perfect vantage point for bird watching or photography.

Bullrushes at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Because it is a sensitive conservation area dogs (even on-leash), bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed. Narrow gates at the entrance to the 2.4 kilometre (1 ½ mile) loop trail around the marsh conservation area ensure that no wheeled modes of transportation can access the area. So, the speediest trail user you are likely to encounter will be a runner.  If you aren’t up to anything more than walking (or even if you are confined to a wheelchair) you will be in good company.

The brick miner's cottage at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The brick miner’s cottage

At the end of our wandering we also discovered an historic brick miner’s cottage off to the side of the conclusion of the loop trail.  Built around 1910, it is the only brick house known to have survived.  The bricks were made in nearby Wellington and the building now serves as a meeting place.

            Further information about Buttertubs Marsh can be found at the website:

http://www.nanaimo.ca/PRC/Locations/Parks/177-Buttertubs-Marsh-Park

Buttertubs Marsh Park is located at 1780 Jingle Pot Road

 wheelchair-l

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  49.166538123883136  Long. -123.97196259412396

N 49 09.992   W 123 58.318

 

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Campbell River’s Elk Falls suspension bridge

Elk Falls suspension bridge in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, British Columbia

View from the top of the new suspension bridge

With the rainy winter season looming here on the west coast we take every opportunity to get outdoors while the weather is still fine, so on a recent weekend we headed up to Campbell River to experience the hiking trails and the new-ish suspension bridge at Elk Falls Provincial Park.

Opened in the Spring of 2015, the new bridge was way beyond anything we could have hoped for.  Thanks to six years of collaboration and the efforts of the local Rotary Club the provincial park’s 75th anniversary has been marked with the dedication of a new feature that promises to bring added interest to the Campbell River area.

Elk Falls, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Elk Falls, as viewed from the suspension bridge

Located just over a mile from the city’s downtown core, the park and the new bridge are easily accessible.  There is a large paved parking area with rest rooms and a huge, well-defined map that offers visitors a good overview of the trail system, bridge access and the distances of each trail. Being that the park encompasses more than 2,600 acres it’s a good idea to peruse the map prior to setting out.

The walk to the bridge is about 20 minutes beneath a beautiful forest canopy.  The trails are well-built and solid, with sturdy hand rails on slopes. Those planning to explore trails other than the one leading to the suspension bridge will find maps at each trail juncture – a feature that I wish was found in more parks.

The suspension bridge is a marvel, stretching 262 feet over a 209 foot drop to spectacular Elk Falls.  It offers unparalleled views of the thousands of gallons of water thundering over the falls to a frothing pool 82 feet below.

Elk Falls suspension bridge, Elk Falls Provincial Park, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Side view of the suspension bridge

There are several viewing platforms at the bridge site offering different perspectives.  They are all accessible via sturdy, well-designed stairwells.  Footing on the stairwells and on the bridge is metal grating, offering good grip (although not so popular with dogs, several of whom were being carried on the day that we visited).

The suspension bridge has intentionally been built with a bit of sag to it, which means there is some minor movement on the bridge when people are crossing it.  But, it is nothing that is particularly scary or nauseating.  High chain link ensures that no one is going to tumble over the top, so overall this structure is very safe for visitors of all ages. It’s a little awkward trying to get good photos of the falls because of the height of the chain link – perhaps a few small reinforced holes could be cut in the fencing to accommodate camera lenses.

Stairwell at Elk Falls suspension bridge, Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Sturdy railings, stairwells and viewing platforms make enjoyment of the area all that much better….

We explored a few of the other trails at the park then headed to the 122-site campground to enjoy a picnic lunch at a riverside site.  More trail discoveries ensued after lunch, as we meandered alongside the beautiful Quinsam River.

The trip to Elk Falls makes for a great day out, and will leave you with memories to sustain you during the dreary winter months.  It’s worth the time, and worth the effort!

            Further information on Elk Falls Provincial Park can be found at the website:

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

            Elk Falls Provincial Park is located just over a mile from downtown Campbell River, off Highway 28 heading towards Gold River.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

            Lat. 50.036719  Long. -125.330243

            N 50 02.203   W 125 19.815

 

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Hiking Nanoose’s Notch Hill

View from Notch Hill near Fairwinds, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The beautiful views from the summit are worth the effort to get there

With winter coming on and the rainy season threatening here on the Island we grab every opportunity we can to get outdoors and enjoy whatever good weather the Gods bestow on us.  So it was with happy anticipation that we headed out on a sunny -but not too warm – day for Notch Hill, located near the upscale development of Fairwinds in Nanoose Bay.

Sign at Notch Hill, Fairwinds, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The sign that marks the parking lot on Fairwinds Drive makes this destination easy to find

Plans to hike this picturesque trail had been on the books for months but other commitments stalled the trip.  In the end, autumn proved to be a great time to do this hike.

Trail through Arbutus meadow at Notch Hill near Fairwinds, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Not for the faint of heart – this hike is fairly strenuous if you choose the ‘straight-up’ route

Notch Hill climbs (mostly straight up, it seems at times) a total of 240 metres or 787 feet: the round trip is 3 km (about 1.25 miles).We opted for the steep ascent on the way up and the gentler, more meandering trail on the trip back down.  It took us about 30 minutes to climb to the top, which included time for rests and dawdling along taking photos.

The trip up the hill is via a pretty well-maintained trail that snakes through Arbutus meadows and a Garry Oak eco system.  While we were delighted with the flora and fauna at this time of year there is apparently even more to see during warm-weather months when wildlflowers are in full bloom.

Dog walker at Notch Hill, near Fairwinds, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Dog heaven…..

Notch Hilll is a mecca for families and dog-walkers.  We met folks of all ages and from many walks of life during our adventure, including a couple of energetic young dads pushing their offspring in strollers.

We reached the summit to discover youngsters scrambling around in a large Arbutus, dogs gamboling along the bluffs and a family group perched on the huge boulders enjoying the spectacular views and the quiet, relaxed ambiance. There are stunning vistas in every direction from the high point – we could easily see the Island well past Nanaimo to the south, Mt. Arrowsmith and, of course, the pretty rolling farmland and sparkling waters of the Nanoose area.

Arbutus meadow on Notch Hill near Fairwinds, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The hike wends its way through beautiful Arbutus meadows

We spent quite a bit of time at the summit enjoying the views and the fine weather.  In retrospect it would have been a great spot for a picnic lunch, with all the magnificence of the area laid out hundreds of feet below us.

The trail that we opted for on the trip back down was considerably less strenuous, with only the occasional small uphill grade and the opportunity to wander off the trail and enjoy more beautiful scenery from different locations.  The descent took less time (for obvious reasons) but was no less interesting and lovely than our original route.

Trail at Notch Hill near Fairwinds, Nanoose Bay, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

We saw a couple of dads with strollers on the trail

A few suggestions for those contemplating this hike: bring camera(s) and water. Be sure to wear good walking shoes, and don’t attempt the ‘straight-up’ trail if you aren’t reasonably fit.  A walking stick might be a help for those with aged knees. Finally, be prepared to enjoy some of the most spectacular views on the Island.

Notch Hill is located off Powder Point Road, which turns into Fairwinds Drive, in the community of Nanoose. There is a well-marked parking lot on the right–hand side of the road leading to the Fairwinds community.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.27476739474435  Long. -124.14404860674096

N 49 16.486  W 124 08.643

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Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail

Oyster Jim Martin - the dreamer, and the dream

Oyster Jim Martin – the dreamer, and the dream

One man’s dream. One magical internationally-renowned legacy. That best sums up Ucluelet’s Wild Pacific Trail – a spectacular network of easily accessible walking trails  that stretches for a total of 10 kilometres (6.25 miles)  along the awe-inspiring headlands of Vancouver Island’s wild west coast.  There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe this beautiful-beyond-words trail. And there probably aren’t enough words in the English language to thank Oyster Jim Martin, the affable, low-key fellow who came up with the idea way back in 1980 and finally is seeing his dream come to fruition after more than 35 years.

The historic Amphitrite Lighthouse overlooks the Graveyard of the Pacific

The historic Amphitrite Lighthouse overlooks the Graveyard of the Pacific

The story of Oyster Jim and the Wild Pacific Trail evolved because Jim enjoyed fishing and hiking along the rough coastal headlands near the small fishing village of Ucluelet. He conceived of a walking trail that would allow folks of all ages, abilities and financial status to enjoy the sublime beauty of the wild coastline. His initial efforts to interest the community fell on deaf ears – fishing and logging were the mainstays of the local economy early on and there was little, if any, interest in developing the trail.

Crashing surf draws storm watchers during the winter months

Crashing surf draws storm watchers during the winter months

Things began going sideways with the traditional employment tracks in the late 1980s however, and by 1995 the bottom had fallen out of both sources of income for many local families.  Oyster Jim, with his quiet persistence, convinced the community that a trail that offered stunning vistas might help boost tourism.

Mesmerizing.....

Mesmerizing…..

It all sounds pretty straightforward, but in fact the maneuvering that it took to acquire the co-operation of developers, First Nations, private property owners, federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments and logging companies is almost as mind-boggling as the finished product.  Oyster Jim credits Charles S. Smith, former director of real estate for the now extinct MacMillan Bloedel  forestry company, with much of the success of acquiring access to the headlands, but it is clear that without Oyster Jim’s perseverance nothing would have happened.

The story of the destruction of the barque Pass of Melfort and the subsequent construction of the Amphitrite Light explains why this section of coast is called the Graveyard of the Pacific

The story of the destruction of the barque Pass of Melfort and the subsequent construction of the Amphitrite Light explains why this section of coast is called the Graveyard of the Pacific

The first leg of the trail, a 2.6 kilometre (1.6 mile) loop, wends its way through old growth rainforest, along craggy promontories,  out to the Amphitrite Lighthouse and back to a well-marked parking lot.  The loop trail opened in 1999 and has been a popular destination for locals and travelers alike.  We got our first taste of it at sunset during a brief summer stopover and were so entranced that we made immediate plans to return, to see more and take in the stunning sweeping vistas, the wildlife, the forest – the enchantment of a truly wild, unspoiled and inspiring place.

Looking towards the Broken Group Islands and the Graveyard of the Pacific, where so many ships have foundered and so many lives have been lost over the years

Looking towards the Broken Group Islands and the Graveyard of the Pacific, where so many ships have foundered and so many lives have been lost over the years

The Lighthouse Loop is an easy walk, and pretty much anyone should be able to manage it with ease.  There is even wheelchair access at the lighthouse; anyone in a wheelchair with a strong companion would probably be able to enjoy the entire loop with little trouble.

Dogs are welcome on the trail but should be kept on leash due to the presence of wildlife

Dogs are welcome on the trail but should be kept on leash due to the presence of wildlife

Further along the peninsula there is an additional 7 1/2 kilometres (4.6 miles) of trail that straggles along the coastline, providing more spectacular scenery looking out to the vast Pacific Ocean. Various sections of the trail are divided up with names such as Ancient Cedars and Rocky Bluffs, Artist Loops, and Big Beach and Brown’s Beach.  There is also an interpretive trail at Terrace Beach, very close to the lighthouse loop.

Depending on where you decide to start and finish your exploration (there are several access points) you will find picnic tables, a children’s interpretive area, viewing decks, beaches, surge channels, pounding surf – well, the list of delights is endless and always varied depending on the time of year and the time of day that you visit. You can certainly rest assured that you will never be bored, and you will never see the same thing twice – the varied moods of the ocean and the bordering bluffs and forests guarantee that.

There is excellent signage at the access points

There is excellent signage at the access points

One of the best features of the trail is the fact that it allows visitors to marvel at the massive gray whales (upwards of 20,000 of them) that migrate through the area between March and May each year. There is plenty of other wildlife as well, including bald eagles, sea otters, occasional bear, deer, cougar and wolf.

More of the spectacular scenery along the Wild Pacific Trail

More of the spectacular scenery along the Wild Pacific Trail

While some visitors may feel a little nervous about the possibility of encounters with larger predators, Oyster Jim offers a succinct answer to their concerns: “If you act like bait, you get treated like bait.” There are tips on dealing with wildlife in the trail brochure, which is available at the access points to the various sections of the trail.

Virtually all of the trail is well-marked and very well maintained – Oyster Jim spends 48 days a year on the maintenance aspect alone. The actual meticulous building of the trail, viewing platforms, bridges and other features seems to take up most of the rest of his time, but despite the long slog to make his vision a reality he still exudes a quiet enthusiasm for all it offers.

A hiker contemplates the scenery from a high rocky bluff - not a recommended place to be when the surf is crashing in

A hiker contemplates the scenery from a high rocky bluff – not a recommended place to be when the surf is crashing in

Along the trails visitors will find benches (many of them in memory of Ucluelet pioneers), interpretive signs, brochures, donation boxes, maps, distance markers and bags for doggy excrement.  The entire trail system is so well planned, laid-out and maintained that one is left marveling at the minds and hearts that have created it all. Donations from all quarters help to support the trail, and a dedicated 12-member volunteer board of directors steers the affairs of the non-profit Wild Pacific Trail Society.

I have only one warning about the Wild Pacific Trail – if you expect to complete hiking the various sections in the suggested times on the brochures, forget it. We took more than twice as long on a couple of sections  – not because of any difficulty with the trail, but because at every turn there was another breathtaking view that meant we paused, took hundreds of photos and reveled in the moment (which often stretched to several minutes). I am sure that Oyster Jim and his dedicated team will be pleased to hear that – it is what this wonderful trail is all about.

Further information on the Wild Pacific Trail can be obtained by going to the excellent website (be sure to watch the 22 minute video there) at:

www.wildpacifictrail.com

GPS co-ordinates for the first leg of the trail, the Amphitrite Lighthouse Loop, are:

Lat. 48.92369104633025  Long. -125.54015174761571

N 48 55.421  W 125 32.409

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Salt Spring Island’s Ruckle Provincial Park

Water view at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Strategically placed benches offer visitors an opportunity to sit and watch the world go by

There is a little bit of everything to be found at Ruckle Provincial Park, located on the southern tip of Salt Spring Island – history, waterfront, wildlife, woodland trails.  When we visited back in early autumn we figured on spending about an hour there; in the end we were entranced enough to be there well over two hours.  It could easily have been a lot longer if the weather and darkness hadn’t been closing in on us.

Victorian home at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

One of several homes at the old farm site

Ruckle Provincial Park sprawls over 1307 acres (529 hectares), looking out to Swanson Channel. Tumbling through Garry Oak meadows, forest, farm land and along rocky headlands, the park offers an abundance of peaceful activities that will banish your everyday cares and draw you in to the majesty and beauty of the southern Gulf Islands.

The road in to the park wends its way past a stunning Victorian home – one of the later houses built on the farm by the Ruckle family.  It was that house, along with a collection of other ancient farm buildings, that made it clear that this wasn’t just any old provincial park.  This was different, on so many levels.

Split rail fence, heritage apple trees and deer at Ruckle Heritage Farm, Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Vintage split rail fencing and heritage apple trees add to the bucolic ambiance of the farm area

Homesteaded in 1872 by Irish emigrant Henry Ruckle, the farm evolved in to a huge operation featuring livestock, field crops and a massive fruit orchard. Six hundred apple and pear trees and 40 nut trees were planted, many of which continue to produce their heritage fruit to this day.

Ruckle Heritage Farm at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Livestock still grazes peacefully at the farm

The 200 acre farm is the oldest continually operating farm in British Columbia. Overseen by the original family, the farm serves as home to a flock of sheep, Highland cattle, chickens and turkeys.  There is still an enormous market garden that keeps the farm stand stocked throughout the growing season.

Waterfront view at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

There are 4 1/2 miles of waterfront to be explored

We spent a considerable amount of time wandering amongst the accessible heritage farm buildings and abandoned houses on the property, taking in the information boards that provide historical notes of interest about the farm area of the park. Imagining what life must have been like in the late 1800s in this loveliest of places wasn’t difficult.

Waterfront picnic site at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Scenic picnic sites

We left the rustic buildings and bucolic ambiance and headed up the road, further in to the park and the ‘wilds’. Time constraints allowed us only a short hike to Beaver Point, but the variations in terrain and water views were enough to keep us entranced.  Beautiful vistas, picnic areas and benches to rest and take in the sweeping water panoramas and parade of marine traffic occupied a solid hour. We hiked back under the forest canopy, through the campsites and returned to our vehicle totally relaxed, the cares of the moment banished.

Waterfront bench at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Many pretty viewpoints offer a bench to sit and rest

Next time (and there will be a next time) we visit Salt Spring we will put aside an entire day to explore more of Ruckle Provincial Park – the large network of trails is simply too enticing to pass up. There is almost 4 ½ miles (7 km) of shoreline to explore as well as the inland trails that skirt the farm. For the time being though, memories of our initial exploration of this most unique spot will have to suffice.

Stairs on Beaver Point Trail at Ruckle Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Depending on which trail you choose, you might run into a bit of mildly strenuous hiking….

Dogs are welcome at the park but because of the livestock and farming activity, must be kept on leash and are only allowed in certain areas. Portions of the park – the trails leading from the main parking lot to the waterside picnic areas – are wheelchair accessible.

            Further information on Ruckle Provincial Park and the working Ruckle Heritage Farm can be found at the websites:

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

            http://www.ruckleheritagefarm.com/

wheelchair-lRuckle Provincial Park is located 6.25 miles (10 km) from Fulford, at the southern tip of Salt Spring Island.  Follow Beaver Point Road to the end to access the heritage farm area, camping and parking.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.771741  Long. -123.381824

N 48 46.304  W 123 22.909

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Port Alberni’s Stamp River Provincial Park

 Stamp River near Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The timeless – and very beautiful – Stamp River

It had been more than 40 years since I last visited Stamp River Provincial Park in the beautiful Alberni Valley, and I have to admit that I headed over there recently with some trepidation.  Back in the 1970s the place was wild and essentially undeveloped, 327 hectares (800 acres) tucked in at the far north end of Beaver Creek Road.  Few folks visited – it was little more than a local hidden gem then.  Would it, like so many other natural treasures, have changed for the worse through ‘enhancement’?  It turns out I needn’t have worried.

Black bear on the Stamp River, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

It’s not unusual to see black bears along the river

We were delighted to find that although things have changed at Stamp Falls, the developments have been minor and truly wonderful. The 23 unserviced campsites are private and nicely scattered through the forest. The two kilometers (1.2 miles) of walking trails are better groomed and more accessible for many visitors.

Picnic tables at Stamp River Provincial Park, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Picnic tables for a riverside meal…

The four picnic tables perched along the riverside offer a lovely spot for a sit-down and an informal al fresco meal. The well-conceived interpretive signs are a great educational addition to the park.

Beach along Stamp River, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

…or a quiet bit of beach for relaxation and reflection

There is even a television screen serviced by an underwater camera that allows visitors to see the salmon working their way up the fish ladders that were installed at the falls back in the 1950s.

Stamp River falls, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Park visitors gather on the bluff above the falls to watch the journey of the salmon…

Happily, the timeless unadorned natural world of the area has remained the same, too.  The Stamp River continues to run clean and clear, a wide, mesmerizing swath of blues, greens and white foam.  Stamp River falls, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaThe falls continue to tumble through a nine metre (30 feet) gorge and every autumn, as they have for untold eons, the cohoe, sockeye, Chinook and steelhead make their way up the river and battle through the falls (or the fish ladders) to answer the instinctive call to return to the spawning grounds on the upper reaches of the river and at Great Central Lake.Migrating salmon at Stamp River Falls, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Black bears appear on a regular basis in hopes of securing a meal – one ambled along the other side of the river and down below the falls during our recent visit, much to the delight of everyone who was perched on the bluff above the falls expecting to see only the courageous journey of the fish.

Interpretive sign at Stamp River falls, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Interpretive signs introduce visitors to the natural rhythms of the river

While there are certainly more visitors to the park than in the past it is still a bit of a hidden treasure – during the couple of hours we lingered there we probably saw no more than 30 people, of all ages.  Youngsters gamboled along the pathways and sat, mesmerized, watching the leaping fish. Senior citizens, parents, dogs (on leash only, due to the bear situation) all enjoyed the perfect Indian Summer afternoon. Travellers and locals leaned over fences to watch the water swirl and eddy its way along, lingered at the excellent interpretive signs that explained the natural ecology of the area, paused to chat.

 

Walking trail at Stamp River Provincial Park, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Trails are wide and well-groomed – a perfect spot for a family walk

The fish runs will continue into December, so anyone keen to experience this natural phenomena still has plenty of time to get to the falls.  Even if you are visiting at other times of the year, there is plenty to see and enjoy at this lovely park – the world is still as it should be at Stamp River Provincial Park.   It is so worth the 14 kilometre (8 ½ mile) drive from Port Alberni, any time of year.

            More information about Stamp River Provincial Park can be found at:

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

 The park is located near the end of Beaver Creek Road, which branches off Highway 4 just out of Port Alberni, on the way to the west coast.

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.34386052916214  Long.  -124.91905185215

 N 49 20.632 W 124 55.143

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Ladysmith’s Wild Poppy Bistro

Duck Salad Bowl at Wild Poppy Bistro, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Duck Ponzu Salad Bowl

Who knew? Who knew that a tiny town of 8,500 perched on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island could be home to an upscale bistro – gluten and peanut-free, no less! Well, the good residents of Ladysmith know, and that’s obvious the minute you step through the door of the Wild Poppy Bistro. You wait for tables, even at 1:30 on a weekday afternoon, and you wait a bit for your food. But all of that, we discovered recently, is more than worth it.

Wild Poppy isn’t large, by any stretch of the imagination – seating tops out at accommodation for a couple of dozen. There are large artistic renditions of poppies on the walls, bare wood floors, bare wooden tables. In other words, there is absolutely nothing over-the-top fancy about the place. The food follows the same mantra. There is nothing high-end on the menu, but plenty of innovation, plenty of local-and-fresh, plenty of gluten-free and plenty of really tempting stuff.

By the time we arrived the daily quiche was sold out, so we took up our menus again and pondered the numerous mouth-watering options. One of the many salad offerings? A cup of house-made soup? Veggie enchiladas? Or maybe the pulled pork grilled cheese?

Yesteryear Farms Sausage Plate at Wild Poppy Bistro, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Yesteryear Farms Sausage Plate

Ultimately, I settled on the duck ponzu salad bowl and my husband opted for the Yesteryear Farms sausage plate.

It took 35 minutes from the time we entered the Wild Poppy until our meals hit the table so, a warning – don’t go through that door if you are starving and need to eat right now. Plan ahead to allow the kitchen to work its magic – it will be worth the trouble.

The duck ponzu salad bowl arrived in the form of a colourful, artistic heap of duck confit, edamame, ramen noodles, shaved fennel, Savoy cabbage and snap peas, finished with a ponzu sesame vinaigrette. My mouth is watering at the thought of it – the flavour and texture combinations were masterful, and the vinaigrette was a perfect complement to the ingredients.

Wild Poppy Bistro, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Inside the Wild Poppy – packed, bright and busy!

My husband’s sausage plate featured two flavourful, tender, plump sausages with a perfect blend of seasonings. The sausages were accompanied by a substantial chunk of aged cheddar cheese, rhubarb chutney, a gluten-free roll and house and potato salads (the latter of which he said he hadn’t enjoyed anything as good in a very long time).

Of course, we couldn’t pass up all the goodies in the display case, located right next to the till. So, a decent gluten-free ginger cookie for himself and a really lovely not-too-sweet butter tart in an excellent gluten-free pastry for me.

In addition to all the goodness on the food end of things, it was nice to see that the Wild Poppy also features locally-roasted Peaks coffee, tea from the nearby Westholme Tea Farm and botanically-brewed sodas from Fentiman’s.

We learned during our foray in to the Wild Poppy that the bistro has just celebrated its four-year anniversary. In a world where restaurants appear and fail with regularity, it’s no small wonder that the Wild Poppy continues to survive and thrive. Great food, friendly service, upbeat vibe. Now, if they had just offered a refill on our coffee….

Wild Poppy Bistro doesn’t have a website, but it can be found on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/Wild-Poppy-Bistro-281703711967723/

Price rating: $-$$

The Wild Poppy Bistro is located at 541 First Avenue, Ladysmith

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.: 48.993942 Long.: -123.817997

48° 59′ 38.1912” N 123° 49′ 4.7892” W

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