The Best Place on Earth

August 15 to September 7th, 2015.

We left Alberta in driving rain and entered Super Natural British Columbia, the province with the moniker, ‘The Best Place on Earth’ — also in the pouring rain! We like our weather varied. It would be boring if it was always sunny, wouldn’t it?! But holy cow it rains a lot here in ‘The Best Place on Earth!’ Of course, that is also why it is so incredibly green and the trees are as big as we have ever seen. The forests smell of Christmas year round, intense with the scent of pine and cedar that awakens your sense of smell in the most incredible way. And then there is the Pacific Ocean which is at once calming and thrilling. There really isn’t anything we don’t love about being near the ocean. We have chosen to spend what many here have told us are the only two months of the year that are not amazingly beautiful in Victoria. We have to admit they can be gray and damp but we have become huge fans of the storms. Storm watching is for good reason an actual past time on Vancouver Island.

Back in August, our first stop was the town of Golden which sits at the confluence of the Kicking Horse River and the Columbia River where we were welcomed by cousins we were to meet for the first time: sisters Jacqueline; Lisa Marie and her daughters Alberta and Samantha; and Alberta’s boyfriend, Wesley. And what a happy get-together it was! We felt as though we had known them forever.

Just past Glacier National Park and the iconic Roger’s Pass, on the bank of the Columbia River we stopped for one night in the picturesque ski town of Revelstoke, just long enough for one of us to become obsessed with the local real estate listings. That has continued to dog us for months. When we reminisce about happy places we’ve been Revelstoke always come up. And we weren’t even there in the season most people visit!

We happily made our way through the Rocky Mountains towards the Okanagan, taking in every breathtaking vista, pass, lake and forest. We stopped to see where the last spike in Canada’s railway was driven, at Eagle Pass. There was an obligatory stop for ice cream at D Dutchmen Dairy in Sicamous — black licorice, labeled Holstein, for him and cherry cream for her. This stop sustained us until we reached Vernon. There was one further crazy turn off on route to our destination that we need to mention, The Fruit Log Barn. Definitely a tourist trap! But also a must-see-to –be-believed: dinosaurs – one pulling a stage coach, animal statues, farm equipment and goats atop an arch we liken to the one in St. Louis, Missouri where tourists clamour to purchase food for the goats which is delivered via elevator. This isn’t the first place we have seen in BC that uses goats as a tourist attraction.

We spent five days in Vernon on Lake Okanagan at the lake house of our cousins Laurie and Graeme. Five days of fine food, happy company, boating, touring wineries and even a little swimming. Cousins Eleanor and Matt from Campbell River joined the party for a few days too making for more laughs, shared family stories, eating and happy companionship. Laurie and Graeme are tirelessly entertaining hosts. It was a real holiday in the middle of a journey that more often than not lacks in creature comforts. And here on the shores of Lake Okanagan we were not lacking for any of those.

We bid a reluctant farewell to the cousins and headed south to camp at Lake Okanagan Provincial Park where we quickly became enveloped in thick smoke from nearby forest fires. After a breathless and wakeful sleep we drove as far as Hope to escape the dense smoke. We stopped in Summerland to restock the pantry at the farmer’s market and bakery and then Carameo where we were offered free hot buttered corn and purchased some of the famous Okanagan fruit. We stayed at a private campground in Hope as the Provincial Park was full as were the three other campgrounds we ventured to first. The photo of this particular campsite is quite idyllic but the restrooms were straight out of a horror film. We did take photos and ever so tactfully suggest to the owners that they may wish to upgrade the so-called bathhouse before too long. And that it is probably unnecessary to lock them and provide campers with a key.

Also escaping the smoky Okanagan cousin Graeme passed us on the Trans Canada Highway as we were making our way to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and he was returning to Vancouver. Imagine a 2015 Audi S7 passing a Volkswagen Westfalia! This resulted in an impromptu tour of his plastics company in Langley and the future secured parking spot for our beloved home on wheels.

The ferry to Vancouver Island is something we love from start to finish. As luck would have it we saw whales as we travelled through the Inside Passage. Our first stop on the island was to visit cousins Michael and Sharon in Victoria. This sweet duo welcomed us with open arms and made us feel right at home while treating us like honoured guests. Michael and Sharon kindly gave us a tour of their architect-son, Ian’s, contemporary and award-winning houses in Victoria. Our Victoria visit sandwiched a trip to French Beach where we enjoyed awesome camping, hiking, spectacular beach and monumental trees. While at the southern end of the island we made our way China Beach, Jordan River and Sooke. This included a visit to SaltWest – a sea salt harvestry owned and operated by Jessica and Jeff Abel who thoughtfully gifted us with fresh and smoked salmon as we were leaving. It would be a crime to overlook the hamlet of Shirley home to Shirley Delicious which is quite frankly surely delicious.

We were pretty excited to make our way to Tofino and Ucluelet. On our way we stopped to see the totems in Duncan, camped at Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville, stopped at the Old Country Market with Goats on the Roof in Coombs and drove through the legendary Cathedral Grove. All the while it rained and it rained and it rained. It had apparently not rained since April so Mother Nature decided it was well and truly time to open the skies. We were wet, wet, wet. We walked the beaches, hiked, and ate our way along this spectacular coast. By the way, it rained a lot. And yet, we loved every living minute. The Pacific Rim National Park campground is awesome with its prehistoric trees and foliage and the constant thrumming of the Pacific Ocean. We loved the wild fish chowder at Sobo in Tofino and the Raven’s Nest, one of the most delicious pasta dishes we’ve ever eaten at the Ravenlady food truck in Ucluelet, the beer offerings from Tofino Brewing and coffee from Tofino Coffee Roasting. On our way back across the island we stopped and walked through Cathedral Grove, a famous old-growth, Douglas-fir forest. Afterward we set up camp for the night at Little Qualicum Falls. In case you were wondering, yes, it was still raining.

We made our way back to the mainland on a ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay. Again, cousins Laurie and Graeme were there to welcome us. This time, to their False Creek apartment in Vancouver! They gave us a whirlwind tour of their beautiful city which included Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Along the way we encountered Hari Krishnas, Zombies and a Food Truck Fest in Olympic Village. Our visit to Vancouver was action packed right up till our flight on the 7th of September to attend our son’s wedding back in Toronto.

Travelling 4,000km by air is somewhat different than by VW campervan. There are the irritating security precautions and lineups. It certainly isn’t as comfortable as the van. It’s impossible to be spontaneous. There are longer lineups for the bathroom. No fresh air. No pantry or fridge at our disposal stocked with food we actually want to eat. But, definitely faster! How would we prefer to travel? We’ll let you decide!