It’s time to say farewell – and thank you

Six years ago I was sitting around grousing about the fact that most of the 12,405 square miles of Vancouver Island got so little publicity in the tourist trade. Victoria and Tofino were the major attractions then (and still are, for the most part). It was as if there was a total no-man’s land between those two destinations.

My forty-plus years of family history in this gorgeous and special place told me that there was plenty to see, do and appreciate beyond those two destinations, and so our new blog/website at www.VancouverIslandBeyondVictoria.com  was born.

Our idea was to highlight, honestly and simply, all the other spectacular places and experiences to be found on Vancouver Island. We have paid our own way for everything, refusing to accept the freebies that most tourism writers are accustomed to. We never announced our presence and our goal prior to arriving at any destination, so we got the true measure of the places we wanted to write about. We never wrote a negative review – if there was an experience that left us unhappy we simply didn’t write about it (mercifully, there were few instances that left us disenchanted.) Our goal was not to slag businesses and communities but to enlighten our readers about the hundreds of positive experiences available to them.

All the while, through thousands of miles travelled and many dollars spent, we also aimed to help publicize great experiences offered by smaller businesses that didn’t have the big publicity bucks available to major centres and tourist destinations. We hope, in our own small way, that we have accomplished this.

The past six years have been a revelation – we have had our hearts lifted by the sublime beauty of this place. We have discovered amazing history, enjoyed hundreds of special activities, met dozens of interesting, dedicated and truly remarkable people. We have made friends along the way – an unexpected but delightful bonus. Our readership has blossomed to a world-wide audience.

But, the time has come to say farewell. After six years of weekly posts the self-imposed deadlines are proving cumbersome. We will keep the website up and from time to time if we enjoy a new experience I will write a post and share with you all. Our Facebook page will remain active with shared news and reminders of special events on the Island.

Thank you all for your readership and support over the years – interacting with you from time to time has kept things ‘real’ for me. Thanks to our advertisers, who helped finance our travels so that we could share this magnificent hunk of rock with you all. And finally, thank you to my husband Michael – the best travelling companion, computer techie, idea guy and friend I could have hoped for during this journey. It has been, to say the least, a ‘trip’!

Shirley Culpin,

Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island

December, 2017

Posted in COURTENAY/COMOX VALLEY, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, EAST CENTRAL ISLAND, GULF ISLANDS, INLAND CENTRAL ISLAND, NORTHEAST ISLAND, WELCOME, WEST COAST | 8 Comments

Milner’s Christmas Magic in Qualicum Beach

Milner Christmas Magic, Milner Gardens and Woodland, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Tens of thousands of colourful lights brighten the historic Milner estate for the annual Christmas Magic event

The magic of the Christmas season arrived at  Qualicum Beach’s  Milner Gardens beginning December 1, offering up a cornucopia of festive delights not to be found anywhere else on the Island.

Milner Christmas Magic, Milner Gardens and Woodland, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Every year there are new displays, such as this lighted archway en route to the house

The historic Milner estate is a 70-acre blend of forest and waterfront woodland garden anchored by an enchanting gabled house that was completed in 1931. The garden and house are a major attraction for visitors and area residents throughout the year for a variety of events, but the Milner Christmas Magic experience has to be one of its most popular.

            Designed to appeal to kids of all ages, Milner’s yuletide attraction begins with a leisurely walk or shuttle ride along the lengthy winding driveway that leads to the house. The driveway is strung with lights, and static decorative displays along the way draw the eye and build anticipation of what is to come. When the driveway terminates at the house and 10-acre waterfront garden visitors are greeted with an eye-popping blaze of thousands of multi-coloured lights.  They are strung from trees, along the house and from almost any other vantage point you can imagine. It is impossible not to be cheered by the sight.

Sant and Mrs. Claus at Milner C hristmas Magic, Milner Gardens and Woodland, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

What would a Christmas event be without Santa and Mrs. Claus?

The light displays, however, are really just the beginning. The folks at Milner do an extraordinary job of creating the ambiance, charm and excitement of an old-fashioned Christmas in so many ways, and in many locations on the estate.

            The gracious old home is the main focus for much of the special activity that occurs. It is decorated end-to-end, indoors and out, with greenery and twinkling lights, evoking memories of a gentler time that preceded the commercial juggernaut of modern Christmases.

           One of the main attractions in the house is the story room, complete with comfy chairs and cushions on the floor. Volunteers spend the evenings reading to book fans young and old.

Story time at Milner Christmas Magic, Milner Gardens and Woodland, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Christmas stories for kids at the main house – what could be better?

The beautiful tea room, complete with handsome fireplace and festive decorations, offers scrumptious treats and warm beverages – again, thanks to the work and dedication of many volunteers. There is a room offering live seasonal music for those who enjoy that aspect of this festive time of year, and another of the rooms is set up as a mini-shop, where visitors can purchase a variety of lovely items.

Hot chocolate at Milner Christmas Magic, Milner Gardens and Woodlands, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The tea room at the main house serves up warming deliciousness during the event

Volunteers also man an outdoor concession near the house where hot chocolate, hot dogs and other sustenance is available.

            There are other special spots on the estate as well, all located near the driveway access that leads to the house. The old gardener’s cottage is transformed into the Teddy Bear Cottage, and the pool house is an expanded permanent version of the shopping opportunity found at the main house.

Teddy Bear Cottage at Milner Christmas Magic, Milner Garden and Woodlands, Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The Teddy Bear Cottage is always a favourite attraction

All-in-all, Milner Christmas Magic is one of the best ways to begin the Christmas period. It offers a relaxed two or three hours that will take you back to the festive seasons of yesteryear; and who knows, you might even run in to Santa and Mrs. Claus!

            Comfortable footwear and warm clothing are recommended, and it’s not a bad idea to take a flashlight along. Admission to Milner Christmas Magic is by donation at the main entry gate.

            Dates and hours for the 2017 Milner Christmas Magic event are as follows:

December 1-3, December 8-10, December 15-20  from 5 – 8:30 p.m.

 Milner Gardens and Woodland is located at 2179 West Island Highway at Qualicum Beach. Further information can be obtained at the website:

www.viu.ca/milnergardens/index.asp

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 49.352825  Long. -124.412852

N 49 21.170  W 124 24.771

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Port Alberni’s Great Sail Past

Decorated boat at Port Alberni Sail Past, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Boats came in all shapes and sizes, from small to large

 

We are greatly looking forward to attending this great community event again this coming Sunday, December 3.  This ‘encore presentation’ from an earlier sail past will give our readers a good idea of what fun it is, even in the worst weather.  Hopefully the weather Gods will provide a clear and dry evening for 2017 .  So bundle up the kids, pack up the camera and be prepared for a fun evening that will appeal to every member of your family. The Port Alberni Sail Past festivities are slated to run from 5-9 p.m., with the actual sail past scheduled for 6 p.m.

Wow! What a night!  I am fast coming to the conclusion that Port Alberni residents are among the most resilient, tough and fun-loving people on the Island.  That was proven out once again this past weekend when we journeyed to the Alberni Valley to take in the annual sail past at the city’s downtown Harbour Quay.

Decorated boat at Port Alberni Sail Past, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Being a big fishing town, there were lots of fishing themed decorations on the boats

The weather, in a word, was nothing short of filthy – torrential downpours and winds gusting up in the 70 kmh range – a bit of a challenge for an open air event.  But Port Alberni folks turned out in the hundreds to take in the festivities.

There was a bit of confusion over start times for the affair – some advance publicity had it commencing at 6 p.m., while other missives publicized a 7 p.m. launch.  Ever erring on the side of caution, we arrived shortly before 6 to discover that all the nearby parking spots were occupied – we ended up parking near the heritage train station, just a short walk away, and joined dozens of others headed for the waterfront.            Decorated boat at Port Alberni Sail Past, Vancouver Island, British ColumbiaWe arrived at the quay to find two huge barbecues (under cover) being used to cook hot dogs, available by donation – or free if you couldn’t chip in any cash. From there we ventured out in to the wind and rain to hang over the railing and enjoy a colourful procession of 18 festively-lighted boats.  They were all shapes and sizes and they sported different themes – every one unique and beautifully executed. Each boat had a number attached so that spectators could vote for their favourites, with cash prizes handed out at the end of the evening.           Decorated fishing boat at Port Alberni sail past, Vancouver Island, British Columbia The lighted boats continued to circle in front of the quay for close to half an hour despite the high winds and driving rain.  And then, a huge barge set off one of the most magnificent fireworks displays we have had the pleasure of viewing – it went on for several minutes and featured some really spectacular pyrotechnics.

The boats headed for cover in the protected harbour following the fireworks – rising winds no doubt were causing some anxiety, and by then everyone was soaked to the gunwales anyhow.

Fireworks at Port Alberni sail past, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A spectacular display of fireworks finished off the sail past

We sloshed back to one of several portable firepits (also under cover) to warm up, then headed over to the very busy Donut Shop, a permanent favourite fixture on the quay.  Hot chocolate and donuts purchased, we trundled over to another part of the quay’s commercial area where we discovered Santa, all snug and warm in his own little cubby hole, waiting to greet the children and hand out candy canes.

Several portable fire pits helped add to the cheer - and the warmth - of the evening

Several portable fire pits helped add to the cheer – and the warmth – of the evening

Also tucked over in that vicinity were a number of craft booths, under cover but outdoors.  It can’t have been a great evening for sales for the vendors, but they stuck it out. We couldn’t help but feel badly for them but once again the Port Alberni resilience shone through – they were all cheerful and helpful despite the miserable conditions, and they were exhibiting some really lovely and unique items.

Decorated Christmas tree at Harbour Quay, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

And of course, there is a giant Christmas tree located in the centre of everything

So, another great event on the Port Alberni calendar. Despite the nasty weather we enjoyed every second of the sail past activities and the festive atmosphere. There is an old saying about adversity bringing out the best in people and that was proven in spades – again – this past weekend.  Methinks this gathering is going to become a new annual Christmas tradition for us, come rain or wind or…well, whatever.

I don’t generally acknowledge commercial supporters of events in my articles, but we really need to offer a tip of the hat to the Blue Marlin Inn for getting behind this splendid family-oriented evening. I am sure that with each successive year the sail past will become bigger and better organized. It’s a great contribution to life in the Alberni Valley.

            There is no website for the sail past, but if you keep an eye on the Blue Marlin Inn’s Facebook page you will be able to get all the details for future sail pasts there:

https://www.facebook.com/BlueMarlinInnArlingtonHotel/

            wheelchair-lThe sail past is held at Harbour Quay in downtown Port Alberni.

Alberni Harbour Quay is located at the foot of Argyle Street in downtown Port Alberni.

            GPS co-ordinates are:

 Lat.  49.23442732946449

Long.  -124.81503009796142

N 49 14.066  W 124 48.902

 

 

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Ladysmith’s Christmas Festival of Lights extravaganza

 Ladysmith Festival of Lights street scene, Vancouver Island The Ladysmith Festival of Lights is worth planning ahead for and making the commitment to get to the Island from wherever you are. This is the 30th annual light-up that involves 1,ooo volunteer hours and tons of fun!  

Two hundred thousand Christmas lights grace the town of Ladysmith for the festive season

     For a small town of 8,000 Ladysmith, located on the east coast of Vancouver Island between Nanaimo and Duncan, knows how to do it up right when it comes to kicking off the Christmas season.

Santa ready to light up the town at the Ladysmith Festival of Lights, Vancouver Island

When Santa appears on a rooftop, the big light-up is imminent

The town’s annual Festival of Lights, always held the final Thursday of November (weather permitting, this year November 30), is a great family outing and a huge attraction for those from far and wide. Upwards of 20,000 people attend, coming from all over Vancouver Island as well as from the Lower Mainland/Vancouver area and other areas of the Pacific Northwest.

Christmas window display at the Ladysmith Festival of Lights, Ladysmith, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Local merchants get in to the spirit with beautiful Yuletide window displays

The afternoon gets under way with a big craft and gift sale at the Aggie Hall, and there is a community spaghetti dinner hosted by one of the local service clubs. As dusk falls the bright Christmas lighting and displays in the store windows come into play.  The merchants located all along the town’s main drag (First Avenue) and on several of the small side-streets stay open throughout the evening.   By 4 p.m. there is street entertainment on First Avenue, complemented by various concessions hosted by local businesses and service clubs.

            While many visitors to the area attend the community spaghetti dinner, we tend to opt for a quick, tasty and very inexpensive meal  at Appetit, a tiny hole-in-the-wall in the middle of the business district on First.  Quick service and a table shared put us in a happy frame of mind for the rest of the evening. We spend quite a bit of time checking out the many unique shops on First, then head up the hill to the area occupied by the mobile entertainment stage.  It is a perfect location – we have a great view of First Avenue all the way down the long, gradual slope, and also are almost directly across the street from the building atop which Santa appears promptly at 6:30 p.m.to ‘plug in the town lights.’  The light-up is spectacular – 200,000 Christmas lights blaze to life to the cheers of the crowd.

The light-up is followed by a really great parade full of brightly decorated floats, clowns and participants from a wide variety of community organizations. It lasts a good solid hour, and is special enough to keep any kid (or adult!) enchanted. The evening wraps up with a huge fireworks display, providing the weather behaves itself and there isn’t too much wind. It can get cold, but the various concessions offering hot chocolate and other goodies help to keep energy levels up. A visit to Ladysmith’s Old Town Bakery for some of their scrumptious baked goods isn’t a bad idea either, we have discovered.

Clown at Ladysmith Festival of Lights, Vancouver Island

There is plenty of entertainment for the kids….

For anyone who is a Chrismaholic, loves parades and/or grand community events, this one is a great bet. The historic town, founded in 1900, has lots of interesting nooks and crannies (be sure to check out the antique store in the old Post Office/Customs building on the highway – even if you aren’t an antique aficionado, the building itself is full of history and an interesting look into the past)

Ladysmith Festival of Lights parade, Vancouver Island

Thousands line the parade route

Further information on Ladysmith and the Festival of Lights can be obtained by going to www.ladysmithfol.com/ or visit the visitor information centre at 411B First Avenue, phone 250-245-2112.

                       The GPS co-ordinates are:

                                S 124 26.022  W 123 48.982

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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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