So, because I’m British and also a big fan of the royals- I have been following the news about Megxit, (a little more than Brexit) and have watched with embarrassment, confusion and perplexity Meghan and Harry, the Duchess and Duke of Sussex…pretty much insult the British people and run away to Vancouver Island. In my personal opinion I think they’re giving up too soon BUT I do get the allure of Vancouver Island, I really do.
In late August 2019 I spent 2 weeks there with my good friend Bonnita (who I met at a Fairy Festival in 2016- I know, very random and rather cool!) Bonnita is Canadian but from Saskatchewan and despite living in B.C before, she had never endeavoured to head to the island. We had been speaking about taking a trip to Vancouver island pretty much since the day we met back in May 2016; as we had heard about the laid back, arty, hipster culture that it had and the inviting towns, enchanting scenery and relaxed locals.
Without further waffling, here is our Vancouver Island Itinerary (an itinerary that we made up as we went along and now with the beauty of hindsight, you too can follow it and have the best adventure ever immersed in nature):
Please note, this trip is posted in two parts. This is part 1, the first week.
1st Day: 20th August: Vancouver to Victoria
Daytime: We had already spent a week prior exploring the busy scenes of downtown Vancouver and parted separate ways for a few days- I went camping in Whistler with some other friends and Bonnita spent time with her cousin at Whiterock. My friend Gary very kindly drove me from Whistler to Tsawwassen, which is the Vancouver ferry terminal. I met Bonnita there and we bought a ticket (think it was around 14 dollars) and hopped on the ferry which takes about 1-2 hours across the sea to Swartz Bay, just outside Victoria. I remember the canteen queue on the ferry was very long, so my lunch was sweets from a vending machine. Bring snacks with you if you’re someone who gets hungry! When we got to Swartz Bay we got a public bus to central Victoria- that took an hour and it was enjoyable because we got to see suburban areas in the south of the island.
After the bus we navigated to our Hostel, https://goo.gl/maps/HKtJc9uVsZ1oWH328 part of the Hostel International group and admired it’s location because it was super close to the harbour and more importantly, a new-age crystal shop where I bought some crystals (red jasper for vitality/stamina and red agate for skin healing as I had scraped my legs during a rocky hike at Whistler!) The staff were really friendly and funny, the atmosphere was peaceful and clean and we stayed in a female only dorm. We were hungry and wanted to chill in a place where we could eat, use wifi and plan our trip. The perfect place was El Furniture Warehouse, http://www.warehousegroup.ca/el-furniture-warehouse-victoria (check out their menu and reasonable prices via the link). I opted for a salad which was very fresh. We spent the evening relaxing there and then crossed the road back to the hostel for an early night with our books. (The book I read was a fictional romance called Another Life by Sara MacDonald, perfect because it was about Canada, England and Italy, it focused on history and destiny but if you read it- be prepared to UGLY CRY!)
2nd Day: 21st August: Victoria to Nanaimo
Daytime: The hostel did a breakfast of toast, bananas and coffee. So we fuelled up on that and we were on the road again! The weather was warm but rainy so I was in shorts, a light jumper and my raincoat over the top which has a pink fluffy hood- so I did look a bit like a flamingo. As Bonnita and I trekked with our luggage to the bus stop, some locals said “rock on girls” because our eclectic outfits were probably a funny sight. Their kind comment sums up the warmth of the people on the island.
We got the Vancouver Island Connector bus https://viconnector.com/, from Victoria to Nanaimo, a two hour journey heading North East and I remember I said to the bus driver “sorry my bag is heavy” when he loaded it on, he was like “don’t worry Miss, you can transport bricks if you want to!” I wasn’t that bad but in my bag I did have a teepee, sleeping bag, air bed, tarot cards and my clothes/toiletries.
When the bus stops at Nanaimo it drops you off at the ferry terminal. We easily got a taxi from the taxi rank to get to our campsite, Living Forest Campground which we shared with a mother and son who wanted to be dropped off by a dock halfway. We paid about 15 dollars so it wasn’t bad and arrived at Living Forest at 2pm. We had booked online the day before but the only spot available was a car spot- that was fine- it just meant that pitching our teepee on the gravel meant the pegs got a bit bent and we didn’t have a hammer but a big rock did the trick.
Campground’s website: https://www.livingforest.com/
Evening: later after setting up our high quality teepee, our home for the next two nights, we bought firewood from reception, then went for a 15 minute walk to the nearest store, Village Stores, a big supermarket to buy things we could cook on the campfire. Because we didn’t have a cool box or bear proof storage we had to buy sealed dry things- like nuts or crisps. We did buy hot dogs and bread because we ate it that night and cooked them on the fire, roasted onions and marshmallows too. YUMMY.
Fun Fact: Nanaimo is where a delicious chocolate snack originates from, a Nanaimo bar.
“The Nanaimo bar is a dessert item of Canadian origin. It is a bar dessert which requires no baking and is named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island. It consists of three layers: a wafer, nut, and coconut crumb base; custard in the middle; and a layer of chocolate ganache on top.” – Wikipedia
This campsite didn’t have any social events like music or anything but we still made friends with fellow campers and I fell in love with a dog called Storm who sat with me by the fire.
3rd Day: 22nd August- Stayed at Living Forest, Nanaimo
Daytime: On this day we sunbathed by the river where many people kayaked, I went for a peaceful jog in the sunshine around the woodland and by the river where I saw otters. We had hot showers in the bathroom block and I used a homemade Vancouver Island soap made from lavender and lemongrass, we used the wifi at their water view cafe which served delicious coffee/tea and snacks like bagels or ice cream. We also cooked on the campfire again and enjoyed our surroundings.
4th Day: Nanaimo – Port Alberni
Daytime: We went back to the Ferry terminal in the morning and got back on the coach again for a 2 -3 hour drive to Port Alberni, in the centre of the island. Port Alberni has a great selection of stores and charity shops where I got a Nora Robert’s chicklit read and Bonnita bought a shirt for a video job interview in Australia in a couple of days. Again, we stocked up on food at one of the stores and treated ourselves to some cider cans for the campfire later- Canada has some unusual cider choices yet delicious, I think I opted for pear and raspberry because I’m not a huge alcohol lover so I wanted something that would taste like juice.
Then we got a taxi to Arrowvale campsite, the taxi driver was a tad alternative and started telling us about the wild mushrooms he forages that have ‘magic’ in. Oh and how he regularly sat with bears and offered them food on his hikes. But he didn’t murder us and the taxi was only 8 dollars, lol. When we arrived it was like landing in someone’s front room- reception was an open barn space with a desk, leaflets and then in the other corner was a kitchen/cafe area and the rest of the big barn-like room had sofas and tables, arranged eclectically and the furniture looked like it may have been donated or picked up from a car boot. The camp site was a little run down but wholesome, family members were tending to the chickens, donkeys and dogs, (cute cute cute). The owner, I cannot remember her name but she was like a chilled grandma who said she could give us lifts into town instead of using taxis and she helped us take our bags down to our spot in the woods. Arrowvale was also the cheapest campsite we stayed at, at 15 dollars a night and they had hot, FREE showers.
Night: Because we arrived on a Friday the campsite was bustling and there was a big party going on with screeching Americans (I’m sorry, I love you guys but when you party you go all out) in the field near our teepee but luckily Bonnita and I were so tired and after our meal of roasted onions/peppers/bananas with marshmallows (Bonnita wrote down the recipes in case anyone is interested in our gourmet dishes) we passed out underneath our solar powered light.
5th Day: Port Alberni – Coombs
Daytime: On Saturday we were kindly dropped off into Port Alberni by the campsite owner’s neighbour (small town vibes) and she was a lady in her sixties with gorgeous grey flowing hair in a plait but the way she moved was so youthful and she wore dungarees, drove a truck and told us about her travels around the world aged 20 – 23 so I clung to her wisdom like a piece of coral on the ocean floor and listened to her tales of dating a rich Moroccan lawyer who bought her a jewelled dress on her birthday, or when she went to India and rode an elephant or backpacked around Europe. I thought yes, when I’m older I would like to be like you- elegant yet tomboyish, spiritual and kind, with travel stories to tell. After that truck ride we had 30 mins to get a coffee from 7/11 and waited at the bus stop to go to Coombs. We ended up talking to a fisherman because Port Alberni has a huge fishing community. and he pretty much told me his life story and how his grandma was from England too The bus journey to Coombs was about 40 minutes- if you drive instead of getting the bus, you can stop off at some giant trees and walk amongst the fauna trails there which is about halfway. Someone told me too that at Halloween the islanders line up their carved pumpkins along that stretch of road.
Coombs is a strange, hippy town with goats chewing grass on the roof of a general store/cafe, there was a wedding going on in a fancy manor next door to a Mexican restaurant, giant statues in the square, there were shops selling harem pants and garden things, a donut shop and a rickety post office with out of date sandwiches. A great place to stop off if you’re driving in a car and want a fun place for a refreshment and leg stretch. Although we spent 4 hours there and we did get bored towards the end whilst we waited for the bus at 4/5pm.
Photo Opportunities in their quirky castle.
It’s a nice place on be on a hot day.
Evening/Night: After the VI Connector dropped us back to Port Alberni we enjoyed the town centre as the sun went down and then got a taxi back to the campsite where we had veggie burgers in the cafe and did tarot cards and sung country songs around our fire.
6th Day: Stayed at Arrowvale
Daytime: It was a sunny Sunday, Bonnita had to use the wifi which was best in the cafe to prepare for her interview. I let her focus on that whilst I sunbathed by the river, in the freshly mowed field, chatted to other campers, read books, made notes in my journal, did some online clothes shopping to treat myself when I got home to UK and rejuvenated after many days of moving about. Also discovered that Arrowvale has a skater park but I wasn’t cool enough to go hang out with the teenagers and probably hurt myself in the process!
Evening: We relaxed in the cafe, pampered ourselves after our showers and even straightened our hair for the first time in a while.
7th Day: Port Alberni – Tofino
Daytime: In the morning we were dropped off by the campsite owner and I was sitting in her front seat. Her phone rang and I ended up answering it and taking a booking for her which Bonnita found hilarious! She wished us the best of luck and we were back at the bus stop again, having bought pea crisps from the 7/11 and I had downloaded a movie on my phone (Catch and Release, rom-com with Jennifer Garner centred around fishing) to watch for the 2-3 hour journey to Tofino.
As we made our way there, the climate soon began to change- rolling hills and mossy trees soon switched to palm trees and bluer waters.
Afternoon/Evening: we made it to Mackenzie Beach Resort our final campsite right by a white sand beach on the outskirts of Tofino https://mackenziebeach.com/. Our actual camping spot was not the best, the camp spots were packed close together and there was litter and a nasty looking swamp opposite. Yet you can stay in cabins with an ocean view if you desire more luxury. Thank goodness a funky bar and one minute walk to the beach were so close. As soon as we had pitched our tent around 5pm we made our way to the heavenly beach…
Night: We had nachos and a drink at Lil Ronnie’s Beach BBQ bar and then we went out onto the beach where the sky was SO CLEAR, I have never seen anything like it- like being in a high definition dome of stars and so many groups of people were on the white sand with driftwood campfires, playing guitar music alongside the hush of waves. Definitely one of my most magical, atmospheric experiences.
That was our first week on Vancouver Island. Pretty surreal and crazy right? Don’t forget to read part 2!
Ciao for now bellas, Georgia x