It was snowing the day we left! We hear that snow is very unusual for Vancouver and yet since we arrived on January 7th, we'd seen it snow about five times. No big deal for us having lived in Chicago, but for the whole first day, we heard "unbelievable, snow"! The snow did make for a long backup on the Highway leading to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal. Because of the traffic, we were sure we'd missed the 10:30am ferry; but no, it was delayed more than 1/2 hour due to disembarking cars being unable to drive up a small hill. We shared the journey with a weekend commuter who worked in the IT business. His outlook for IT jobs was very upbeat and made the time pass quickly.
The drive from Nanaimo to Tofino was also a snowy, wintery drive. The Walmart parking lot reminded us of Chicago and we remarked on how we now understand better why we searched North America for a new place to live instead of just returning to Chicago. We were happily surprised to find a Taco Bell in Nanaimo. Yum Yum. The drive across Vancouver Island was uneventful since the roads had already been plowed. We did see some pretty winter scenes on the drive, but didn't think to load up our camera with the film we'd purchased at Walmart.
After a long drive down a very bumpy dirt road, we arrived at Middlebeach Lodge. We settled into our room, grabbed our books and headed for the big common room. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay settled since no restaurants delivered on Monday nights. We delayed dinner for as long as possible and just arrived at Gary's Chinese Restaurant shortly before closing. We over-ordered by each choosing a dish. But, this worked out well and started our week-long tradition of always having leftovers available for the next day's meal. That way, we'd only have to leave the lodge once a day to forage for food.
Our lazy days blended together. We'd enjoy a breakfast of muffins, croisants, cinnamon bread and/or granola and then either retire to the room for a nap or settle into a common room couch to read. The first couple of days we only left the lodge to get food. Often times we had dinner left overs for the following day's lunch, so we then had lunch and settled into the brightest corner of the common room to read for the rest of the afternoon. It was disappointing that we had to leave at all to get food, but we managed to drag ourselves out the door every day except one.
Our favorite place in Tofino to eat was the Weigh West pub - probably because it had a terrific view and served pub food. We kept hearing about how Tofino had some amazing restaurants, but since neither of us particularly enjoy seafood, the appeal was lost to us. Especially since many of the higher-end restaurants recommended reservations, we ended up at the more pedestrian places - 100% fine with us!
The first Whale Festival event we attended was a talk on barnacles. Tara was keen on attending, but Seth wasn't too sure about the subject matter. In the end we were glad we went. The presenter made the talk fun, especially since she shared such interesting facts with us about barnacle sex. ie. 'a barnacle has a penis six times the length of its body'. For the rest of our week, we always had a closer look at the barnacles we saw attached to rocks.
The next Whale Festivale event we attended was a 'walk to the whales'. Unfortunately, we didn't see any whales on this walk, but we did learn a bunch about whales, see Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and enjoy lunch in the panoramic Wickaninnish Inn restaurant. Our favorite event in the park was a walk around a bog. Niether one of us had been to a bog before, so the stunted trees and water-logged ground was new to see. We were especially amazed with the colors of the spagnum moss covering the ground. In places it was green. In other places it was yellow and we even saw patches of red. Seth bent down to touch the moss and recoiled at its wet, springy feel. We marvelled at how abrupty bog changed to forest in a matter of steps. Our only disappointment in the bog was being unable to find the carnivorous plant with small green leaves covered in red dots. Nonetheless, we thought the bog was kool! We also stopped at Combers beach to see Sea Lions. However, our sea lion expectations were very high since the last place we'd seen sea lions was in New Zealand. In New Zealand, there were sea lions sleeping 15 feet in front of the parking lot. Here, Sea Lion rock was at least 200 feet off shore. By using our monocular and our imagination, we were able to tell that their were sea lions out there, but, as Tara said "it's not really the same if you can't smell them".
Another fun Whale Festival event was the Saturday morning parade with ten or so floats. The parade section we both enjoyed the most was the parade of parents, children and dogs. Everyone was holding a balloon and it made for a fun site. Tara also enjoyed being able to catch candy since the number of spectators was small (probably since so many families were taking part in the parade!). As we wandered around town after the parade, Tara kept finding more and more candy by the side of the road.
The day we decided to go whale watching was the first day we'd seen the sun - for a whole five minutes or so while we were on the boat!! Even taking into account the lack of sun, we picked a good day to go whale watching since the cloud ceiling was high enough for us to enjoy the surrounding views. Because of Seth's tendancy to get sea sick, we chose a larger boat. The cruise was enjoyable. We ended up seeing the two whale tails, three whale backs and numerous whale spouts. One tail view was especially memorable since our boat was close by when the whale's tail came out of the water and flipped over in seemingly slow motion. On the way back to the shore we passed an island filled with birds, an island with sea lions both on it and swimming in the water alongside, and an island with two eagles: one in a nest and one on at tree branch. Thankfully, Seth only reached a 7 on the 0 to 10 sea sickness scale with 10 meaning sick over the side. The next 24 hours, though, were especially lazy since the sea sickness medicine he'd taken made him drowsy.
The week we were in Tofino we had neither good weather nor stormy weather. Every day was rather gray and cloud-covered. It did dry out occasionally for Tara to enjoy our room's balcony. And we did see a bit of a sunset one evening.
Overally, we enjoyed Middlebeach lodge but think we'll remember our time on Salt Spring Island more fondly. Often the people in the main common room were standoffish and we would have preferrred a friendly atmosphere around the fire.
We'd been disappointed with the small amount of wildlife we'd seen all week. Sure, we'd seen a couple of eagles; a few live shells; whales, sea lions and birds while out on the whale watching boat; and a few Stellar Jay birds. However, we expected more and are very glad that during our last 24 hours we did see more of what we expected.
Tara had only investigated the rocks on one side of the beach during low tide. She'd seen two or three of the round, green sea creatures and one purple starfish laying on the sand. Not too impressive when she thought of the thriving sea life on Salt Spring Island. Thankfully, during our last full day at the lodge, we got to talking to a couple from Seattle. They were also leaving the next day and said that they wanted to go have a look at the starfish on the beach. When we said we hadn't seen any starfish on the beach, they directed us to the exact spot and we did see starfish - all crammed together in-between certain rocks on the far side of the beach. We also saw more green sea creatures as well as a few living sand dollars. Nice to know that Middlebeach did support some sea life.
Our last lunch in Ucluelet really hammered home how we felt we hadn't seen that much wildlife the whole week. We chose the Eagle's Nest pub since we'd really enjoyed Tofino's pub and this pub also had a nice view overlooking the harbour. The onion rings and beef dip meal will be very memorable because as we ate, we started spotting eagles. We saw 12 eagles in total during our half hour lunch. Now this amount of wildlife was exactly what we'd been expecting. The first two eagles we identified we flying together from over the pub to the land across the harbour. As our eyes focused on the forested land across the harbour, we noticed more and more 'moving golfballs' in the air. These 'golfballs' were indeed white eagle heads. After lunch, we used the monocular in the parking lot and got a close-up look at two more eagles. Plus as we were driving out of town, we stopped and saw yet another eagle perched on a tree!
What a nice way to end the trip. The ride across the island was also enjoyable since a few of the lakes reminded us of the fantastic views we remembered from New Zealand. We briefly stopped in Coombs and even though we didn't see any goats on the roof of a country store, we enjoyed browsing the international foods for sale.
We made the 5pm ferry by the skin of our teeth and enjoyed our favorite White Spot hamburgers on the way home.
|Overall Experience||7||All during our enjoyable week we said "wouldn't it be nicer with Bob and Eileen here".|
|Ease of Journey||8||Rather long based upon the distance we traveled, but easy to catch the ferry at Horseshoe Bay and then drive from Nanaimo to Tofino.|
|Accommodation||7||Tara said that Middlebeach Lodge reminded her of Disneyworld's Wilderness Lodge.|
|Activities||7||We read a lot and attended a few Whale Festival events. For example, we went to a talk on barnacles, joined a small walk talking about whales, went out on a whale watching boat and saw the town's parade.|
|Coolness||7||It was kool to look West say "next stop Japan". However, often we couldn't tell we were at the Western edge of North America since we'd look West and see long islands off the coast.|