July/August 2015 North America
Trip Log: Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island.
People You Meet, Books You Read
A ferry journey of some hours is a godsend to Travel Blog writers. Seems the only quiet time for long time travellers to catch up. Our last “Alaska” blog was written while travelling 17hrs on the inside passage Prince Rupert to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. This blog is being compiled on the Ferry crossing from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Port aux Basques on Newfoundland, 7 hrs. Currently trying to concentrate whilst sitting in the Ferry Lounge before departure. The colours of the seating and furnishings can only be compared to the contents of a bag of Jelly Bean lollies. Blues, Pinks, Mauve, Green, Yellow. Makes you feel sugary high and hyper!
PRINCE RUPERT, HAIDA GWAII AND VANCOUVER ISLAND.
Haida Gwaii, (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), was a 6 hour ferry ride from Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The relatively shallow waters of Queen Charlotte Sound between the mainland and the Island are notorious for extreme weather conditions and treacherous high seas. Our crossing was calm, pleasingly uneventful and restful. We drove off of the ferry and looked for a campsite for the night. Our Sat. Nav. knew the road which was good, because we did not. We would have been happy to pull off the road and “free camp” somewhere along the way but the trees and shrubs alongside the roadway were impenetrable. We eventually backtracked and found a campsite run by a totally eccentric Radio Ham who’s house was looped in wire aerials and almost overshadowed by satellite dishes. He claims he has spoken on radio to another person in every country except Australia!! The “bathroom” facilities would never have passed any Municipal inspection (even visual). Leaving the facilities to one side, “Eccentric Radio Reg” our camp host and radio man “extraordinaire” confirmed that our “new beaut” Cobra CB Hand Held Radio was indeed dead!
He really was a lovely guy. “Books you read and people you meet”, never fail to disappoint. But alas, one night at Reg’s was more than enough for anyones constitution and we moved on.
Totem poles on these Islands were and still are prolific and play an important cultural and spiritual role for the local indigenous peoples. Painstakingly carved from huge Cedar trees they tell stories of significant events and always include the spiritual Raven and Eagle and many times included the Orca and Black Bear. Haida Gwaii is home to the largest of North American Black Bear.
Haida Gwaii is an archipelago, which lays on the Northern Edge of British Columbia. North Island is Moresby, where the majority of people live and South Island is Graham Island, which is mainly marine national park. It was on the South Island we did a spot of Trout fishing in some gorgeous streams. We couldn’t believe our luck, the trout were just about jumping on our hook! Made for a nice dinner.
For 5 days we explored these Islands and then returned to Prince Rupert for showers, laundry and replenish supplies.
Prince Rupert is a sad place. Many of the shops are closed, there is strong evidence of homelessness, drugs and poverty. Once the heart of the town, the fishing industry is so regulated the town is now on its’ knees, fishing boats are only allowed out 2 days a week. On the other hand, Prince Rupert flourished and prospered during decades of an unregulated fishing industry. Somehow, It must adapt if it’s to survive. It must look after its’ vulnerable too.
Pen had to get a prescription filled and we were advised to go to the emergency building at the hospital. There we were told it would cost $975 for a Dr. to give us the necessary prescription. Seeing the look of horror on our faces the receptionist very nicely rang around and found a Dr who had ‘open house’ that day and would see us. $35 later we had the script!
Next day we boarded another ferry which would take us through the Magnificent Inland Passage of British Columbia down to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island.
17 hours on the ferry passed surprisingly quickly with magnificent views all the way, the occasional whale (Orcas and Humpback) cruising along quite at ease as opposed to the leaping Salmon, either chasing their dinner or desperately evading being someone else’s. Some old land marks of pioneering civilisation remain, but mostly the inside passage is pristine. There are an extraordinary number of cruise ships in this area, the Inland Passage is a magnificent draw card for them. Golden Spruce, Black Sycamore and Douglas Fir cover Mountains, which are home to Bald Eagles, Osprey. Black and Grizzly Bear.
On reaching Vancouver Island (V.I.) We travelled South from Port Hardy via very, very quaint Telegraph Cove to Campbell River, the centre of logging during the 19th and 20th century. In 1982 the River was home to the largest number of sea planes on the planet that were used to supply hundreds of logging camps throughout the area. Huge flotillas of logs were transported down the Campbell to open water from far inland. So huge were the log rafts blocking the entrance to the river, the effect on the spawning Salmon was disastrous and virtually wiped out the stocks. As well as regulation and to counter the dwindling Salmon numbers from overfishing of what stocks remained, The Campbell River Tyee Fishing Club was formed. A boat with 2 persons on board has to be rowed. Fishing is with rod and a 10 lb breaking strain line to catch a 30 lb. Salmon (minimum otherwise it has to be released). Catch your salmon that way and you become eligible for membership of a famous and very elite old fishing club. Well heeled tourists can still stay at lodges around Campbell River, hire guides and equipment and catch their regulated limit, albeit, for a princely sum.
From Campbell River we drove to a remote village on the wet west coast of the island, Tahsis. It nestles at the end of a tortuous winding road in a long, deep and narrow bay opening onto Esperance Inlet and Pacific Ocean. The fishing (salmon) season was in full swing, and a very small camping ground run by two charming old guys was full of fishermen bagging their daily limit and sending it back home, snap frozen, vacuum sealed and table ready to places all over Canada and the USA. The Tahsis marina put on live music one night. A whale in the inlet and a scavenging bear in the middle of the night gave extra excitement.
Cloudy, misty and very green, Tahsis used to be a big logging town. When the industry died the town almost did. The folks still remaining are a friendly but older community and welcome you so warmly. Fisher people sharing their catch, ‘we’ve caught too much, you enjoy it too’. A highlight, was Tahsis.
Heading south then west again we passed through Cathedral Grove (Voted one of 7 of Canada’s Natural Wonders) a 300 hectare stand of Giant Douglas Fir. Then onwards through the old gold mining (but flourishing) town of Port Alberni to the very touristy and affluent town of Tofino. Very pretty but with out a doubt the very worst of commercial camping sites we had experienced to date. Squalid, filthy, expensive and bursting at the seams with trapped campers who had no where else to go in a tightly controlled National Park Area! The little fishing village of Ucluelet was much more attractive to us.
Duncan is further south on Vancouver Island, the wine and food area of the Island. In the local carpark we were approached by a blue Unimog, with a fellow and two children inside. He was doing some shopping and lived locally. After a chat he insisted we follow him back to his home in the surrounding hills of this pretty rural place. We stayed in a beautiful home, in a great bed, with an absolutely gorgeous family, thank you.
Victoria on the South Coast of the Island is a city with a beautiful old historical town. Close by is Butchart Gardens which boasts one of the Worlds Premier floral Gardens built on an exhausted limestone quarry. The Victoria Anglican Cathedral has a lovely ring of bells. I may never get to ring the Bells at Westminster Abbey but I did ring an exact weight at Victorias’ Christ Church Cathedral.
The view across the Straits of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains in Washington State was simply stunning.
It’s in Victoria that Highway 1 “The Trans Canadian” starts at “Mile Zero”. From that spot some 7500 km’s to the east the Highway finishes at St. Johns in Newfoundland, St Johns is our next long term travel goal.
We must say a big thank you to Lois and Phil whom we met in Dawson City in the Yukon but live in Victoria and allowed us to park in their driveway during our stay and became our very knowledgeable tour guides. Victoria “Old Town” is a really lovely, small and architecturally attractive town with a fabulous small harbour and lots of activity. The Dragon boat races were in full swing, great fun!
Across to the mainland from Victoria on yet another ferry boat trip is Vancouver city. The old Port and Gaslight area of the city was terrific with its steam driven clock as a centre piece; a very outdoor and coastal city with Stanley Park on its Ocean Frontage. Granville Island a magnet for tourists with its big markets, outdoor eating, boardwalk buskers and boat and kayak cruises.
Another ring of tower bells at the Beautiful Catholic Cathedral in Vancouver. Quite unique as 4 of the bells were English made and 4 were French made.
A quick recommended trip to the fabulous 3 D film “Flight Over Canada” in a specifically designed theatre on “Cruise Ship Quay” where you are strapped in and “fly” across all the fantastic parts of Canada in virtual fashion, even down to misty rain! It’s from this harbour quay side that the cruise ships were loading passengers and baggage to sail the British Columbian and Alaskan waters for their “Trip of a Lifetime, Arctic Cruise”. They will have only read, but like us, are about to experience Majestic Mountain scenery and Wildlife, Geological and Glacial “miracles”. British Columbia and Alaska are to be seen and never forgotten.
We are not naive travellers re the social problems and poverty in our “Western Civilisation” but Vancouver came as a big surprise! The amount of homeless people living and drug using on the streets on the Eastern Fringe of the inner city truly shocked us. A Rainbow of hope though, in the middle of Vancouver’s shame area was a Fabulous 2 acre Community Garden, the produce grown being used to feed the homeless. We were able to tour the garden and couldn’t believe the variety of produce being grown.
We then drove in a big loop north east to Whistler and Cache Creek, back down through the Fraser Gorge which was a wonderful stretch of winding road with Hells Gate ( gorge and stunning river sweeping through) on the way. We met a guy in a car park who was an Engineer by profession. He was gold mining in the Fraser River reworking the tailings from mining 100 years ago, his unique system had music piped under his sluicing belts to “agitate and filter” microns of gold from dirt which he then manually panned, (no toxic chemicals) collected and sold. We wouldn’t have believed it remotely possible but he took us to his small and demonstrated how it all worked. Truly ingenious!
Crossing the border back into the United States we picked up a new camp stove in Bellingham to replace a dead one. Unfortunately had to miss Seattle to start heading east in a serious fashion and wanting to see the wonderful plains and prairie country of the USofA and Canada.
PEOPLE YOU MEET, BOOKS YOU READ.
We continue to meet more incredibly generous people, some have offered to let us park in their driveway and be our Tour Guides for a day or two. Mike, who we met while pulling into a carpark on Vancouver Island actually took us home, let us sleep in their guest room and gave us the keys to his car to explore.
Our friends in Victoria showed the same generosity of spirit and treated complete strangers (then) as old friends.
We also have an expanding list of contacts, many from travelling Europeans to visit them when we eventually arrive in South America and Europe.
We now have 140 people who are now Travels In The Earwig “Facebook Friends”.
Our consumption of books to read continues both with Kindle and hard copy. Book swaps at campsites is a great way of being introduced to new authors. Keeping in mind of course that we have no shelf space and one book gets replaced as soon as is read. Google and Wikipedia on ipad is a great way of introducing us to our next Port of call. Water colour painting to capture memories, and loading photo’s onto our ipad keeps us out of mischief!!
The little niggly settling in things all seem to be sorted. We are “sailing” along as it were. Our truck handled any thing that Alaska and British Columbia could present to her, from water crossings to travelling the extremely rare sandy beaches, dust, hail, rain and sun. Road corrugations and pot holes, frost heaves and rain washouts.
If we thought telecommunications and staying in touch in these ultra modern times was difficult in lonely bottom of the planet Australia. In North America for overseas travellers (especially long term travellers) forget it!!! We know we are not the “sharpest knives in the drawer” when it comes to I.T. Never the less we have found it impossible to get a continuation of any reasonable service. Telus Canada took our “Top Up’ money then stopped the service! We now rely utterly on free WIFI. for our internet, thank you once again, Walmart, Safeway, Tim Horton Coffee Houses and any other free WIFI service we can log into. For our mobile phone service we use prepaid. Local and Long Distance.
Remember our CB Radio radio debacle with Cobra which never worked from day one? Well, we finally decided that enough was enough , we had expended too much energy through frustration and angst, cut our losses and threw the Radio in the bin/trash. Which was exactly where it belonged. We sent 6 emails via their “customer care web page”, 2 phone calls over 6 weeks. No response. 3 days after relieving our selves of this piece of rubbish Cobra finally replied and reminded us that the proper path was to post the item at our expense to them to service. Cobra also claim that they had been trying to contact us through email and phone. Excuse me Cobra, but no email or missed calls registered with us!!