After some deliberation as to when to pick up the rental car (early start vs extortionate parking fees) I collected the car from Hornby Street on the Friday afternoon and parked it at the Devonian park (24hrs) which was at least $10 cheaper than the underground car-park closer to the hotel. Parking in Vancouver I must add, is not cheap which is why I chose to use public transport to get around during the week. (Another point for those interested is that car rentals in Canada are much higher than those in the USA.)
We left the hotel early in plenty of time to catch the 10:30 ferry at Horseshoe Bay over to Nanaimo (Departure Bay) as we had reservations (these cost around £15 and not strictly necessary except in peak times unless you have to be somewhere such as the airport!), but if you don’t make that first ferry then you have to wait in line for the next and this can eat up a good couple of hours). £15 didn’t seem to be too much of a hardship for us to be on our way.
I love BC Ferries – they arrive on time, they depart on time and they are easy to drive on and off (particularly important for me whilst struggling to come to terms with a new car and its associated gadgets) then on board you can wander around during the crossing, have a meal, look at the views and if you’re lucky (as we were) see a pod or two of Orcas en route. On our previous visit to the Island we bought a circle ticket for the ferries which allowed us to drive slowly up the Sunshine Coast crossing the fjords by ferry and then over to Comox on the central coast of the Island from Powell’s River. If you have the time I thoroughly recommend this route for its beauty and peacefulness, (but be careful of the “granny traps” at the side of the road in places – deep gullies or drains at the edge – we saw several cars stuck in these and dread to think of the damage to the underside of the vehicle).
On this occasion we chose to go directly to Nanaimo (home of the famous Nanaimo bar) as we were heading over to the Pacific Rim on the west coast for a few days staying in Tofino, surf capital of the Island. We didn’t bother with a GPS as there really isn’t much need for one on the Island – or so we thought… got a bit lost in Nanaimo as hubby got confused over route signs which meant we went around in a circle and tempers frayed somewhat! Eventually we found the correct route, confusingly there’s a 19 which is the Inland Island Hwy and a 19a the Island Hwy, but since they merge to the north we really had nothing to worry about and could relax and enjoy the scenery.
Following the 19 you by-pass Parksville and turn onto the 4A at Coombs where we would be staying on our return journey. Coombs is famous for the “Goats on the Roof” at the country market, but more about that later. The 4A turns into the 4 which is the Alberni Hwy and basically you follow this all the way to the west coast. Passing Whisky Creek and Little Qualicum Falls you drive alongside Cameron Lake before winding round through MacMillan Provincial Park and past Cathedral Grove to Port Alberni. I have never stopped, but imagine it could be a nice place to break for lunch at the quayside and I believe you can get to Ucluelet by boat from here. We continued onwards (105 km) and around Lake Sproat which is vast!
The road winds up and down and you gasp at the views as you are surrounded by mountains with glimpses of lakes. You then reach Kennedy lake passing over creeks with names such as “Cats Ear Creek”, “Log Dump Bridge” and “Lost Shoe Creek #1” and “Lost Shoe Creek #2” (obviously ran out of imagination there, or perhaps there are lots of lost shoes) and finally reach the T junction where the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre is located and where you can buy a National Park pass – these are not needed to drive through to Tofino, but are required for parking at any of the trails in the park between mid March to mid October. Turn left at the junction to Ucluelet (9 km) and right to Tofino (36 km).
We were staying a little way out of Tofino, close to Chesterman Beach (literally across the road from our B&B) so had to drive into Tofino for restaurants. Maybe next time (and yes there does have to be a next time) we would stay in the town so we could walk.
We ate at SOBO (all the best eating places in Tofino begin with S) which is at the corner of Neil St and 1st and serves beautifully prepared local and seasonal seafood and good BC wine. We had the special chowder which is the best I have ever tasted – it is spicy – followed by a thin-crust pizza. Mine was goat’s cheese and mixed mushrooms and it was delicious, OH had BBQ chicken with whisky sauce which was a little too sweet. Washed down with a respectable B.C. Pinot Noir.
And we caught the sunset on the beach too so a perfect end to the day.