Exploring Vancouver Island

IMG_0749Beautiful beaches, yummy seafood and thrilling gardens…

Our last week Canada was probably my favorite. We secured a ferry crossing from Vancouver to Victoria, and because we were flexible with times and dates, we got over 60% off the price of the length of the RV! Since we are 63 feet with the Jeep and bike rack, the discount made a big difference! Raj was chill about driving Gypsy right onto the ferry (does anything phase my man?) and off we went for a week on the island! The kids were easily entertained by the crossing, the views were gorgeous, and it was a super bonus when the captain announced there was a pod of Orca on the port side. Within a few minutes we were able to spot them, though in the distance!

IMG_6887We spent 3 nights in Victoria exploring and taking in the sights.  We had lovely weather, so we enjoyed a day of simply strolling around the town center, finding a wonderful park called Beacon Hill and meandering across town to Fisherman’s Wharf for fantastic fish n chips. We stayed in a campground with beach access, so even when we didn’t feel like going anywhere, we had the chance to breathe in the salty sea air, let the dogs runs on the beach and go for walks to enjoy the sunset. Raj wasn’t a huge fan of the gritty, rocky sand and somewhat pungent air, but I’m fond of the driftwood and found it very peaceful.IMG_0757

Butchart Gardens is the #1 attraction in Victoria, and as gardens go, it is likely the most impressive on the continent. We don’t normally seek out the tourist attractions, but this one we just couldn’t pass up (and they not only allow dogs, but welcome them with treats!). It’s hard to describe the explosion of colors and textures within the walls of this beautiful place. IMG_5684It’s an extremely well designed display divided into several unique sections and garden types, such as Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, Italian Garden, and my favorite, the Sunken Garden; every section is more vibrant than the last. Around every carefully manicured turn, an assault of reds, purples, pinks, blues, yellows, oranges and every color in between envelopes your senses. There are fountains, boat tours, and the kids’ favorite, Rose Carousel. IMG_5769It’s amazing to look back at just a few weeks ago when the kids had their first carousel experience in Missoula, and to see their growth (both physically and intellectually) and to witness their bravery and excitement. Watching them on the carousel really put into perspective how this trip is accelerating their maturity… I’m not actually sure how I feel about that – they are already growing so fast!

IMG_0809Though we were enjoying Victoria, we also wanted to experience more beach-centric areas, so decided to go all the way to the west coast to be on the Pacific Ocean. As far as finding RV accommodations and any semblance of civilization meant the Tofino-Ucluelet area, famous for surfing, was our main, if not only, choice. Amazingly, very little of the west coast is accessible. The drive to the Pacific Rim National Park was, once again, unexpectedly intense with steep grades and plenty of switchbacks. Also, as usual, Raj didn’t mind. We witnessed a stunning sunset on the way and a black bear on the side of the road with her itty bitty cub, so I enjoyed the ride too. We struggled to find accommodations last minute, as there are way more RV campers than there are spots, but at least secured a dry camping spot in Ucluelet (though at a frustratingly high price). We arrived in the dark, and went straight to bed.IMG_0813

Well, surfers certainly know beauty – the beaches we explored were long and wide, the waves were decent and there were areas that rival Northeast US and New Zealand beaches with their rugged appeal and waves crashing against rocky shorelines. We watched newbie surfers on Chesterman beach as the dogs ran free and dipped our feet into the frigid waters at Tofino Beach. IMG_6892We had a fantastic lunch in Tofino with killer chowder, tuna poke, baked clams, and of course, bloody Caesars; it was one of the most beautiful presentations of a meal I’ve ever been served, with edible flowers on the food, and sushi grade fish garnish on the Caesar – amazing.

Lighthouse Loop
Lighthouse Loop

We went on a lovely, albeit rushed, hike on the Wild Pacific Trail and introduced Nina to her first lighthouse – she was so disappointed we couldn’t go inside, so we’ve promised to explore every lighthouse on the Washington and Oregon coasts until we find one she can investigate more fully (Oye – this may prove to be a challenging parenting mistake).  We particularly enjoyed the wild and tumultuous coastline views as we stood within the twisted tree trunks of the old growth, temperate coastal rain forest.

IMG_5848However, because the area is remote, and caters to surfers (and interestingly, storm watchers in the winter months) and especially because it is a tourist trap, we were not into the overall vibe. In addition, we were over-paying for lame accommodations and we either needed an electric hookup, or we’d have to start running the generator to power the refrigerator, as our battery was about dead. After only 3 nights, we decided to head back to the east side of the island and stay at what we expected to be a lesser beach.

Thankfully, just north of Courtney, BC, we found a great little campground and got lucky with a site right on the water! Though the beach was rocky as opposed to sandy, we had full hookups and sensational views for far less than we were paying in Ukee.

Site view from Bates Beach Oceanfront RV Park
Site view from Bates Beach Oceanfront RV Park

We enjoyed that campground so much we never even left, except for walking the dogs. Instead, we watched the impressive tides roll in and out, let the dogs and kids run on the beach, chatted with our sweet neighbors (we were on top of each other at this place, so it was unavoidable), and searched for seals. We enjoyed watching the fisherman return to the boat launch and hearing about their catches, and at dusk large cruise ships offered sparkly views at they departed from and returned to Vancouver from Alaska.

7 eggs (+ leftovers)!
7 eggs (+ leftovers)!

Our last day was stormy, so we colored and watched movies with the kids, and took advantage of strong wifi to chat with family. As we were to cross the border the next day,  we also cooked up the rest of our food in hopes it wouldn’t be confiscated at customs like when we entered Canada (i even managed folding a 7 egg omelet!). Everyone seemed to have different stories as to what was allowed and what wasn’t – there was no consistency, so we wanted to be prepared for anything!  I’ll let you know how our crossing went next time!

Campground Reviews:

Oceanside Beach Resort  (Victoria)– 3.5-4 stars – we stayed 3 nights, the first as overflow in their parking lot (with great wifi), and then in a slot (where wifi sucked) – narrow spaces but landscaping offered a little privacy. Beach access through dunes, nice playground and lovely views. Lots of fulltimers, but well maintained and in a section of their own. A bit of a drive into town center, maybe 15-20 minutes, but we didn’t mind.IMG_6904

Uclulet Campground (near Tofino) – 2-3 stars – absolutely ridiculous price for boondocking/dry camping – this area is underserved so they get away with it, but it wasn’t worth it. Our site had a view of harbor/marina, but it wasn’t spectacular. The site was rather spacious though, which is why I’d consider 3 stars (that and the location is nice), but just not worth the price. There is no wifi unless sitting at office. No playground. No good area for the dogs.

Bates Beach Oceanfront 4.5 stars! – amazing views, RIGHT on the water. Finally a campground set up for motorhomes – we just pulled right in and gained a 180 degree of the sea! Extremely tight spaces but smart design with living/eating space in front of unit on the water.Super chill staff and really good wifi. Fun playground for the kids. Not really a specific place to walk the dogs but we just let them run on the beach (which is very rocky until the tide goes out). Would definitely stay again.  

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