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A mini-break in Parksville, British Columbia

Both my husband and I love to travel but recently our wanderlust has been curtailed by the ongoing pandemic. Even so, we decided to take a short trip “overseas”. After due consideration, in mid-October, we drove from our Vancouver home to Horseshoe Bay. Here we masked up and boarded a BC ferry to Vancouver Island.

Vancouver Island

When we disembarked in Nanaimo it was past one o’clock. The Lighthouse Bistro located beside the harbor with wonderful waterfront views was calling to us. This local eatery offers a great selection of lunchtime choices. I opted for a bowl of clam chowder which came loaded with mouthwatering butter clams while my husband chose Oysters Rockefeller.

Well-fortified we continued northwards to Parksville, originally home to the Coast Salish people. This small community located in the heart of Oceanside lies on the sheltered east coast of Vancouver Island. Our one-bedroom suite overlooked the Salish Sea, the BC mainland and the Gulf Islands of Texada and Lasqueti. A Waterfront Walkway follows the sweeping curve of Parksville Bay for about a kilometre. It’s a favourite destination for dog walkers, runners and people of all sizes and ages. It was our twice daily exercise. The fresh salty air was exhilarating. That first evening the tide had rolled in close to the shoreline. On the beach at the end of the walkway was a forest of inukshuks which had been creatively assembled atop large pieces of driftwood. Later, back at the hotel, we relaxed over a glass of wine as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Vancouver Island

The next morning the tide was way, way out. We enjoyed meandering around this vast stretch of sandy beach exploring the numerous tide pools. There were mounds of seaweed, innumerable seashells, one moon jellyfish, lots of gulls and a lone heron ready for take-off. Try as I might I couldn’t spot any sand dollars for which the beach is renowned.

Vancouver Island

Later in the morning, we jumped in the car and drove along the scenic Oceanside Route to Campbell River, the salmon capital of the world. This metropolitan town located on the edge of the BC wilderness was first discovered by Europeans in 1792 when Captain George Vancouver sailed up the Georgia Strait. There’s much to explore in Campbell River but we were pressed for time. The Discovery Fishing Pier was Canada’s first saltwater fishing pier. There’s Elk Falls Provincial Park and opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. We strolled along the shoreline of Discovery Passage where an intricate wood carving was on display. Returning home we dropped into the seafood store at French Creek to buy a couple of fresh crabs. Served with hot butter and a Caesar salad, it was a delicious treat for dinner that evening.

The next day we visited Little Qualicum Falls. There are two sets of falls: the Upper and the Lower. We hiked up the trail through the old growth forest to the Upper Falls. The recent heavy rains rendered a dramatic scene. It was mesmerizing to watch the water gush through the rocky gorge en route to the ocean.

Waterfall, Vancouver Island

On our return to Parksville, we made two detours. First of all we stopped at rural Coombs. The town was named after the head of the Canadian Salvation Army which spearheaded an emigration plan in 1910 to resettle British people from crowded cities. This popular tourist attraction with its famous sod roofed building also features a country store selling fresh fruits and vegetables as well as Cuckoo’s, an Italian trattoria. The market has been an important factor since its creation by a Norwegian family in the 1950s. Coombs is the legendary home of “Goats on the Roof”. It might have been “Minyon” who was in residence that day while “Nibbles” was out back munching the grass. At Cuckoo’s, we lunched on a yummy shrimp and mushroom thin-crust pizza. This we topped off with steaming hot lattés. The restaurant itself is housed in a renovated farmhouse which we were told had been in the family for generations. It had been lovingly restored. Continuing along Highway 4A, we turned off at the sign to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park. A First Nations’ legend reveals that the skeleton of a white man was found near the waterfall giving the park its name. From the parking lot we meandered through a forest of Douglas fir, cedar, hemlock and maple trees. Pausing briefly at the bridge, we watched the water plunge down into a narrow rock canyon. At the lower falls in the warmer weather one can enjoy a quick dip in a crystal clear swimming hole. Another day we’ll explore some of the hiking trails which wander through the park’s 97 hectares.

We thoroughly enjoyed our “overseas” mini-break. We learned some BC history, discovered some interesting places and savoured some delectable seafood. Just three nights in a different part of our Province provided us with a refreshing break from the coronavirus routine.

All photos, as ever, by David Grimble.

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