After our fantastic Great Bear Lodge adventure we had another night in Port Hardy before driving to Nanaimo so we could catch the ferry from Vancouver Island back to the BC mainland. Nanaimo is famous for a rich creamy chocolaty slice with a sugar kick to boot you into next week. I recommend you try one. Fortuitously, the town also had a good local brewery, White Sails. We tried a couple of brews before eating and then heading home to get a good night’s sleep so we didn’t miss our early ferry departure.
Our first mystery outing (*spoiler alert – look away now if you’re planning to go yourself) was a walk on the mainland. When you first arrive, rule number one is that you don’t go off the floating lodge unless you have a guide. On our walk we had Marlo and Sabine guiding us, with frequent calls of ‘Hey bear!’ to make sure there were no surprises. They also had bear spray on the hip. Both were really knowledgeable about bear behaviour and we were shown some cool places where bears hang out.
From Courtenay we travelled to Port Hardy. Our main reason for visiting was to be ready for our flight the next day to Great Bear Lodge. On the way we stopped for picnic lunch at Port McNeill, where we saw a bald eagle.
We had one night in Courtenay, at Kingfisher Spa, which turned out to be a beautiful location. M was so disappointed we didn’t have time for any spa treatments, but the cafe/restaurant and view from outside our room was excellent diversion for one night. From the beach and then from the restaurant we could see seals popping up their heads. The mountain backdrop behind was very impressive.
From Victoria we headed up the coast. The first hour out of the city was excruciatingly slow – in an hour we travelled about 15 km. They are repairing the road and there was an accident and a breakdown – luckily we had planned for an easy driving day. We were heading to Courtenay but on the way stopped in at a couple of lookouts, and for lunch checked out Rathtrevor Beach. So far the Canadian beaches we’ve seen in BC are different to most Australian beaches – it seems like there’s a lot of dark sand, and the tide is always out – but the mountainous backdrop is absolutely stunning.
From Vancouver we headed to Victoria on Vancouver Island. By lucky accident we found out that it’s better to book a spot on the ferry rather than just turn up. We were early and nearly made it onto the ferry prior to ours, missing out by about 6 or 7 cars. But we didn’t have long to wait to get from Tsawwassen terminal to Swartz Bay. It was a lovely crossing and then an easy drive to get to Victoria.
On a day trip from Harrison, thanks to our friends local intel, we checked out the Othello Tunnels, a park close to the town of Hope on Highway 3. In town we discovered that Hope and surrounds is where Rambo First Blood was filmed – they are celebrating the 35th anniversary soon. There was also a mountie in full kit roaming the streets, but I didn’t get a chance for a pic.
It was a lovely walk and the tunnels were impressive. We approached from the further entrance, which had cougar and bear sighting warnings – as is common almost everywhere in BC.
On the name: apparently the chief engineer was a Shakespeare fan. And when they first ran the train service they scheduled it at night so passengers couldn’t see the sheer drops either side.
Shenandoah NP is a lovely park not far from Washington DC. We stayed at Big Meadows Lodge which was a great spot – we saw bears close to where we stayed, deer, and excellent views all along the Skyline Drive.
So you might be like me and most of your historical knowledge of Southern United States comes from Gone with the Wind and that Civil War doco series. Therefore you would be interested in Plantation Homesteads that you can visit in Virginia. We only had time for one so we chose the oldest, Shirley Plantation. This was a beautiful location, a lovely homestead that has had 11 generations of the same family involved in its running. The family still lives in the floors above and below ground level. One of the tour stories told is that the reason the homestead still exists is due to two sisters living there during the Civil War helping hundreds of wounded Union soldiers that found their way there after a battle nearby. The Union General declared that no Union soldier would harm the family or the property after that. The usual modus operandi was to burn everything.