In August 2015 we spent two weeks cruising the British Columbia asphalt: a family road trip back to our old haunts around Vancouver, the lower mainland, and Vancouver Island. Along the way we saw some familiar sites, ate some long-missed food, and caught up with many folks who’ve migrated west in recent years. These are some of the highlights.
On Tide Pools & Sandy Beaches
Nanaimo surprised me, I must admit. I expected a quiet little hamlet perched on the edge of the coast and overlooking the far off city of Vancouver poking upwards from the mainland as a kind of distant metropolis that didn’t bother the locals too much except for the bulging weekend traffic it would perpetually deliver via the ferry.
Instead, Nanaimo turned out to be this all-too-familiar sprawl of urban traffic, shopping malls, and car dealerships strung along the water to the East and the wilderness to the West. It was lovely, but bigger than I had imagined-slash-remembered in my head.
Two nights in Nanaimo are not enough to do it justice, but so in search of some kind of ineffable coastal feeling that we weren’t quite vibing on from the balcony of the Best Western, we lurched a little further North to the neighbouring town of Parksville for our first morning and sought out some beaches.
The tide was out. You could probably have walked for a kilometer straight through the sandy muck littered with millions of little critters and tide pools before you reached the water-proper. We walked for about five, because we meandered in a zigzagging sort of way, dodging water and Claire’s panicking meltdown linked to the fate of the hundreds of shelled animals that she was inevitably stepping upon as we tip-toed through the temporarily dry habitat.
We found a geocache on the beach. We wrote our names in the sand. We picked up oysters and little clams and Claire “rescued” a half dozen mussels by scooping them from the aforementioned muck and tossing them unceremoniously into the nearest tide pool.
We drove a little further into Parksville and to the public beach (as opposed to the park beach) where we encountered a strange sort of late summer beach culture boom that had manifested as the chaos of a beach volleyball tournament, some random food trucks, and a sandcastle building competition — or at least the results of one that was on display for an entry fee of just a few bucks.
On Ferries, Kayaks & Water Travels
Backing up a step I’ll mention that our time in Vancouver didn’t give us much time around the water. Trees, yes. Markets, check. City streets, definitely. Water… well, not so much.
Leaving the mainland and going over to Vancouver Island (for most people) involves a ferry. BC Ferries seems to be a stellar operation, and I’m sure if I relied on it for routine travel I’d learn to hate it just like everyone else. But for a there-and-back again family vacation adventure, driving aboard a hulking white ship and climbing up to the deck to eat a mediocre hamburger as the Strait of Georgia rolled below me was a much anticipated and much enjoyed couple of hours.
I love boats. I should have been born on a coast somewhere, and part of me kinda thinks I should just buck up and find a way to move to one someday. Retirement, maybe. But I could easily get used to a life at sea, I’m sure.
A day after riding on a hulking ferry that relinquished us of all responsibility for controlling the navigation and safety of my vacation, Karin made sure we spent some time on a watercraft of the completely opposite persuasion: We took a kayak tour of the Nanaimo harbor.
For two hours we navigated the oh-so-slightly choppy waters that edge the Western side of Newcastle Island.
The plan was for me to double up with Claire in a two-man kayak and Karin would solo. But fate saw differently. While I could squeeze my butt into the two-man vessel, I could not actually extend my legs inside the beast. The guide quickly swapped us and I ended up paddling solo while Karin was stuck lurching through the water with sixty pounds of singing, restless cargo in a significantly larger boat.
I would guess that Claire enjoyed it, but her attention span is short for anything, even a peaceful commune with the natural beauty of a harbor paddle through an amazingly beautiful Nanaimo land-and-water scape.
Wet feet aside, it actually got us talking about buying our own boats sometime. After all, we’ve got a truck to carry them in now.
On Cheap Fish & Good Beer
One of the reasons for choosing Nanaimo as a pit-stop on our West Coast road trip vacation was to pay a visit to my old boss. He’s a pretty private guy, so I won’t say much besides that during our too-infrequent chats on the phone he always ensures me that we’re overdue for a visit. So… we went for a visit.
The plan fluxed a little bit, as plans always do, but inevitably we wound up doing brunch with them on our last day in Nanaimo, punctuating (because we were literally driving out of town after we ate) our visit with a delicious meal in a cute bistro-style restaurant with a birds-eye-view of the city. I guess that’s why it’s called “The Nest.”
But with some hearty recommendations from both our Nanaimo hosts and the inevitable peeking at restaurant reviews, we did manage to eat very well for those three days.
More sushi, of course. And other glowingly awesome bits of seafood that (for any local are probably mundane and mediocre but for my prairie palate) lack appropriate description. We also wandered over to a cute little Thai place just steps from our hotel which turned out to be a gem and even got a non-commital shrug from Claire… a few steps up from ‘The Refusal to Eat’ analysis and a much, much better rating than either ‘Spitting it Back Out on Your Plate’ food review (which happens) or the all-too-familiar ‘I’m Making a Scene Now’ response.
The boss also gave us some tips for eating along the coast (which sadly didn’t happen) and some insight to some good haunts in Victoria (where we were heading shortly after brunch) which did… along with a winery stop along the way. We were nothing if not well-fed in Nanaimo.