After a relaxing few days fully immersing ourselves into the Island lifestyle, our next adventure awaited, taking us through the very heart of the Island to Tofino, on the westernmost edge. I have to note; hiring a car was possibly one of the best decisions I made for this entire trip, as it allowed us to explore every nook and cranny this beautiful Island had on offer – from the unexpectedly vast Vancouver Island Mountain Range to the hidden roadside creeks and ancient woodland.
We set off early, anticipating the long drive ahead (although in hindsight, it was nothing compared to what we had in store for the coming month!). Walking into Cowichan Bay early that morning, I was sad to wave goodbye to this humble and relaxing slice of heaven, where the people were so welcoming and the refreshing, meditative scenery offering nothing but uninterrupted beauty. We stopped off at Hilary’s for our farewell breakfast, as it had been recommended by our uncle as a place we had to try before we left the Bay. I’m certainly pleased we got the chance to experience this little restaurant and deli. Not only was our delicious breakfast accompanied with a view of the pristine bay, everything was local – from local handcrafted coffee mugs to the very indulgent, yet healthy, layered parfait. It felt so restorative and wholesome fueling my body with local fruits, granola, yoghurt and honey. I could have eaten it all day long!
I also got very excited by Hilary’s deli which included a wide selection of artisan cheeses, ranging from producers located just meters down the road, to Canadian and global award winners. Our server was so friendly and attentive – typical of all Canadians, I hasten to add – but he was set apart by his in-depth passion and knowledge on every single product on the menu and displayed in the deli. We finally decided on a local Cowichan Bay goats cheese as a gift for our uncle and aunt we were visiting in Alberta, not fully considering the fact that A: cheese smells in a warm car and B: cheese really smells….
Upon leaving, our server also made some great suggestions for stop-off points on our journey, namely the Cathedral Trail situated just a short distance from Nanaimo – it was simply a must see destination. As soon as we passed Nanaimo, the clear blue skies of Cowichan were very much behind us and a heavy drizzle was visibly hanging heavy over the route ahead. Unperturbed, we motored on, windscreen wipers working up from the occasion swipe to full-powered panic mode. Perhaps the drizzle was more a torrential downpour.
The Cathedral Trail
Calling all fellow tree lovers and huggers – this is definitely a place that should be firmly etched on your bucket list. The grove is part of the MacMillan Provincial Park and is located along Highway 4, so there is absolutely no excuse to bypass this outstanding collection of ancient douglas firs. You can simply pull up in the parking area (parking is free) and take as long as you want meandering along the trail pathways amidst these awesome giants, standing silently and gracefully, watching over all earthly activity and welcoming its many visitors. Despite the rain, we, alongside other travellers, still decided to brave the weather. Luckily the tall pillars offered plenty of shelter, so much so it was easy to forget it was raining – I was only reminded when the odd raindrop managed to battle its way through the strong canopy of interlocking branches and leaves.
We opted for the South trail first, which holds the oldest and largest tree in the park, measuring an colossal nine metres wide. As soon as you step over the threshold of the forest, you are immediately transported into another world of age-old magic. Greeted by nature and that rich, musty woodland smell I am so fond of. The sound of the road is lost, weather conditions forgotten and the ground was spongy underfoot, carpeted by shredded bark and fine fir needles. The trees’ rich brown bark is wrinkled, as if the skin of an elderly person full of expression and ingrained wisdom. Despite the deep ridges and crevices, it felt polished and smooth and as crazy as it sounds, the trees seemed to whisper; perhaps it was the wind rushing through the puzzle of branches overhead, but I like to think it was these wise giants whispering their hidden secrets and tales from their 400 to 800 years standing tall in the very spot I met them in the summer of 2015.
That’s right, it wasn’t a typo, some of the trees date back 800 years – surely they’re some of the oldest trees on the planet, let alone Vancouver Island! Sadly, many of the older trees were damaged in a terrible windstorms in 1997, leaving mostly 400 year old ‘youngsters’ to continue their reign and nurture the incredible coastal forest ecosystem. Everything was covered in fine wispy hairs of moss, which floated in the breeze and draped across the branches as if curtains. Fallen trees and fencing was spread with thick vibrant emerald moss and pillows of mushrooms sprouted at the base of trees, as well as climbing the mammoth trunk. Despite being fairly busy with visitors – I can imagine it may be worse on a sunny day – the trees seemed to have the loudest voices and strongest presence. The moss absorbed outside noise, leaving only the eery muffled chatter of visitors and patter of feet across the forest floor.
Leaving the forest behind us, we continued along Highway 4. The rain had truly set in, coating the roads with pools of water. As the roads wound through the mountains, it was easy to forget we were surrounded by an expansive mountain range. We were occasionally reminded by their presence as dark shadows loomed out of the heavy rain and fog. The creeks looked bare, with only the trickle of water bubbling over the rocks. The record breaking drought experienced across British Columbia was evident here, as scorched trees, dried river beds and creeks lined the road. Although it was slightly disappointing not to be able to see the Island’s dramatic scenery, having heard from my brother that the drive across the Island to Tofino was the best he’d ever experienced, I was happy the rain had come, drenching the landscape and restoring nature with this long-overdue downpour.
Nevertheless, the drive was still stunning – most of the Island seems to be covered with trees! Passing a succession of tsunami zone warning signs and on beginning the long, straight drive along the coastline road bordered with the Pacific Rainforest, Tofino was only a short distance away. After barely seeing any civilisation for hours, we were greeted by a mixed sense of a historic community, combined with a new generation of young surfers. Wooden houses were nestled in the woodland, alongside surf shops, bars and eateries. It was very different from the rest of our travels and I was excited to see what a very rainy Tofino had to share with us in the coming days.