It’s hard to believe how quickly the past two months have gone by since we arrived on Vancouver Island. We have enjoyed time with family and friends, spending most mornings at the gym and taking a day off here and there to do some sightseeing. There are a few interesting small towns not far from Qualicum and lots of places nearby to get out for a walk. Even though we are close to the water, the beaches here are very rocky and not easy to walk on so we ended up doing most of our walking in the forest. A beautiful place to explore and of course we still had ocean views during some of our walks. Here are a few of the places we visited:
Just under an hour west of our beach house is the town of Port Alberni. A port town? In the middle of the island? Yep!! Port Alberni is a deep port sitting at the head of Alberni Inlet, Vancouver Islands longest inlet running 40 km (25 miles) inland from the Pacific Ocean. The major industry in this town of just under 20,000 residents is lumber milling, harvested from the ample Red Cedar and Douglas Fir forests surrounding the area. Port Alberni is also known as the Salmon capital of the world and rated one of the world’s ultimate fishing locations. We arrived in town around 10 am to find a heavy fog blanketing the valley making it very damp and gloomy. We soldiered on visiting Harbour Quay and Victoria Quay, but there was not much going on this dreary Monday morning. We drove back up the hill to the tourist information office, emerging with a visitor map and directions to a few small hikes nearby. By this time the fog had lifted revealing brilliant blue skies.
Our first walk was in Stamp River Provincial Park. One of the park’s major attractions is the annual run of millions of Pacific Salmon, the Stamp River is a major fish travel corridor. From the pool below the falls, they fight their way up the falls and through man-made fish ladders to reach the spawning beds upriver. The fish ladders were built by the Fisheries Department beside the constricted falls to assist the salmon’s upstream migration. The salmon run occurs every year beginning in July with Sockeye and continues into December with Coho and Chinook. What an event this would be to witness, we might have to plan a return trip here!
After a brief lunch stop in Port Alberni, we drove to the Hole in the Wall trailhead, recommended by the tourist office. This short walk is on private land owned by Mosaic Forest Management but appears to be an acceptable place to hike, despite the private property signs at the start. Years ago a large hole was drilled through the rock to make way for a water pipeline that fed the Alberni Valley. The pipeline was removed decades ago and what is left behind is an oasis in the forest where the creek flows through the hole into a crystal clear pool below.
After visiting Hole in the Wall it was time to head home, briefly stopping on the way at the entrance to Cathedral Cove which sadly is closed due to covid. We had hoped to see the famous 800-year-old Douglas Fir trees, but BC Parks has no opening date listed on its website. The best we could do was take a few photos from behind the fencing on the roadside. If you are lucky enough to be here when the park is open it would be worth a stop here.
Last summer while in Australia we visited the town of Kurri Kurri, renowned for its outdoor murals. Just over an hour south of our Qualicum beach house is the town of Chemainus, also renowned for its outdoor murals. Interestingly, both towns have a similar history and reason for their murals. Chemainus was founded in 1858 as a logging town, many Chinese came to work in “bull gangs” struggling to move huge lumber planks to the ships. Later, Japanese, East Indians, Scots and Germans blended their cultures while looking to make their fortune in mining then staying to work in the forests and on fishing boats. In the 1980s the forest industry fell into a deep recession, there was talk of the mills closing and new economic diversity was needed. Tourism seemed a natural fit and the mural revitalization project was born. Artists and sculptors worked their magic around Chemainus painting murals and creating sculptures throughout the seaside town, today there are 55 murals and 9 statues. The tourist information office has a free walking map available. Using the map as our guide, we followed the yellow footprints painted on the sidewalks marking the route through town to see the murals. It took us a few hours to wander the town center enjoying each mural we came across. Below is a small sampling of the many artworks on display.
In addition to the murals, Chemainus has an abundance of shops selling local handmade objects and gifts, artisan food destinations and a slew of music festivals and events throughout the year. There is a small beach at the edge of town and a marina/ferry terminal where you can ferry across to the nearby small islands of Thetis and Penelakut.
COURTENAY and COMOX
Driving north towards the Comox Valley our first stop was in Royston to see the Ghost Ships. Starting in the 1930s and continuing over the next 20 plus years, 14 ships were purposely sunk to expand a storm breakwater. Today, little remains but rusted remnants of the original ships but the history board is an interesting read. Our second stop was at the Union Bay boat launch, just because the views were outstanding from the end of the breakwater and to read about the large propeller on display.
We continued driving through Courtenay, across the river and around to the Comox Valley Marina. On one side you have the Fishermans Wharf where all the commercial fishing boats are moored, and on the other side all the leisure boats and yachts are moored. There is a lovely pier to walk along and admire the surrounding views.
From the marina, we drove to Goose Spit Park for a brief walk along the rocky beach before carrying on to Point Holmes. This was not a planned stop but it looked interesting and turned out to be the best place to see pods of sea lions. At first, we were not sure what we saw in the water, but shortly realized it was the flippers of sea lions. Sea lions have the ability to regulate their body temperature and are often seen floating with one flipper out of the water catching sunbeams to warm their body. Who knew!!!
Continuing on from Point Holmes our next stop was the 40 Knots Winery. Yup, even in the dead of winter we can indulge in our favourite past-time…wine tasting 🍷🍷 We were happy to discover the winery was open for tastings and enjoyed a relaxing visit. We learned about the grapes grown on-site and wines produced here before diving into a 4 wine flight tasting. They offer guided tastings every hour but we were happy to select the wines we were interested in and go it alone, purchasing a bottle of our favourite at the end. We are red wine lovers so our choice was their Stall Speed Meritage costing CDN $36.90 (USD $29.05) a bottle. The vineyard has extensive outdoor seating and a sun-filled glass-enclosed gazebo overlooking the vineyards. Being off-season we had no trouble getting in, in fact we were the only two people there, but in tourist season you will definitely need a reservation.
Following our winery visit, we were in need of food so headed to Locals Restaurant in Courtenay, situated in an old heritage house facing the river. It’s a wonderful restaurant serving food from local producers with seafood heavily featured on its menu. We highly recommend this restaurant if you are in the area, and if you like shopping both Courtenay and Comox have some quaint streets for souvenirs.
BIG QUALICUM HATCHERY
Our visit here was purely to get out for an afternoon of hiking with the hatchery currently closed to the public due to covid. From mid-September until mid-November, Chinook and Pink Salmon return to the hatchery and spawn but any time of year is a great time to walk here. Starting at the hatchery, a 10 km long gravel service road follows the river with many side routes available taking you under the canopy of trees. We walked approx 3.3 km out the gravel road where we found a trail sign and a small bridge over the river. Crossing here we returned to the hatchery on the opposite side of the river from the gravel road. Definitely the more scenic route 😊
We also did an overnight trip to Tofino, but we will write about that adventure in a separate post. With our two months in Qualicum Beach at an end, we are off to the capital city of British Columbia, Victoria. Spring arrives early in this part of the country and we are excited to see the flowers bloom and explore a new city. Stay safe and I hope spring is coming soon to your part of the world 🌷