Vancouver Island Part 1: Arriving in Cowichan Bay

After picking up our hire car in downtown Vancouver – a very snazzy bright white Toyota Corrola we aptly named Marvin – and the trauma of firstly; driving on the wrong side of the road and secondly; attempting to navigate our way across the City to Horseshoe Bay, a new sense of adventure started to kick in, bubbling away in my core and showing itself through my beaming smile and unstoppable ‘car-dancing’.

The weather had returned to what can be expected of mid August – a comfortable 27 degrees with clear blue skies and a gentle refreshing breeze. Much to our surprise, we seemed to bypass any traffic and cruise straight on to the lunchtime ferry to Vancouver Island. We had officially began the next leg of our travels, taking us further west, first to Cowichan Bay and then on to the very edge of Canada – Tofino. Looking out across the bright blue ocean towards our next destination, I felt such independance – we could go anywhere we wanted – it was just my sister, Marvin and I.

The ferry seemed to pass in an instant, despite supposedly taking two hours. Sitting up on deck, the bright sunshine began warming my skin and the fresh sea air whisked my hair up so it danced in the sky. Despite the clear day, Vancouver Island appeared far in the distance, waiting patiently on the horizon and beckoning us ever closer; a mountainous distant land protruding out of the mirror-like ocean. It looked magical, shrouded in a warm haze making the island appear as if shadows, slowly forming solid grand and colourful structures as we approached. I couldn’t help but think how the first explorers would have felt crossing this very channel, all those years ago. An uncharted territory that offered such outstanding natural beauty and opportunity. I had done my research and still felt the excitement of the relatively unknown, but I could only imagine what the early adventurers must have felt, crossing this very stretch of unfamiliar water to the then alien island.

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Once we touched down on solid ground, we hit the road with windows down and the music blaring. No road trip can go without Taylor Swift, right? The ferry traffic soon seemed to disperse, leaving the vast open road to ourselves. Lined with tall trees, small fishing towns and what appeared to be numerous different wineries, there was such temptation all around to detour off our route and explore the Island further.

By the time we reached Cowichan Bay, it was past four o’clock and the sun had began to drop, casting a yellowy hue along the bay, illuminating the water as if it were full of twinkling stars. After the action packed days spent in Vancouver, Cowichan Bay was just what the doctor ordered. A tranquil small fishing town, angelic in nature, offering a calm retreat to rest and recharge our batteries.

The bay reminded me a lot of the small fishing towns we have in the South West of England, or those nestled along rural Mediterranean Islands. Largely community driven, proudly displaying their rich array of local arts and crafts, foods and favorite pastimes. A simplistic and enjoyable way of life based purely on a love of the water, and of course the overall Canadian passion for nature and the great outdoors.

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Unsurprisingly, the water was the main attraction, evident by the impressive array of bright white speedboats, fishing boats and colourful houseboats docked along the harbour deck, gently bobbing up and down with the gentle rippling waves. The one and only street ran alongside the water’s edge, bursting with quaint independent stores and a rich array of either restaurants or food stores, quite remarkable for a town of its size. It clearly draws on inhabitants from all over, offering delicious whole food produce and of course, seafood.

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We sat on the deck for what must have been over an hour, enjoying an icecream (typically English!), shortly followed by dinner at the Cow Cafe. I’m a lover of seafood, but there’s seafood and then there’s SEAFOOD. This was to a whole other level, so fresh it could have been caught (and probably was) just minutes before it was presented to me on a plate. Their award winning Chowder has changed my mind on fish soup and the prawns were the biggest and juiciest I’ve ever experienced. Alongside the food, we had our first experience of British Columbia wines and several heavenly Bellini’s – the Bellini Tour lives on!

Despite my noisy appreciation of the food, I can’t say I was particularly conversational on our first evening, transfixed by the water and simply overwhelmed by this pure, simple, yet timeless way of life. Fishing boats returned to harbour as they always had done and the seals glide through the water just meters away, nimbly weaving their way amidst the houseboats and sourcing unsuspecting fish taking shelter in the cool shadows cast by the decking.

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Its funny how the human race has always gravitated to water to find an inner sanctuary. Whether it’s the fresh sea air that quite literally blows away all unimportant thoughts, or the physicality of the water symbolising a cleansing and rejuvenation, I without doubt was already feeling it’s profound effect. In just the short few hours we had been in Cowichan, my lungs felt clean, my mind felt alive and an inner calm was taking over. This was some sort of heaven on earth – a quiet, secluded slice of bliss, with very little else to do other than look within and explore the outside.

Tips: The Canadian’s love credit cards, so having one is a necessity if you want to hire a car. I sometimes got away with handing over my Debit Card nonchalantly, but it’s best to have one, just in case. I hired our car using Canadian Affair and opted for Hertz. Both were fantastic and we got a great deal – plus a free upgrade!

We didn’t book our trip over on the BC Ferry, but I’ve heard it often gets very busy and you can be stuck queuing at the terminal for hours. It may be wise to book ahead, if you know when you’re travelling. We just winged it and I  guess we hit it on a good day? Here’s a link to the site: http://www.bcferries.com/

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