Vancouver Island - Take Two

Our bus is coming - the ferry MV Coho docks at Port Angeles

Back in the summer of 2006 Sandy and I took a vacation to Washington and British Columbia. We started by going to the Olympic Peninsula and attending the Sequim Lavender Festival. Sandy, just in case you didn' know, is crazy about anything to do with lavender. Then after a hike in Olympic National Park, we planned to take the ferry from Port Angeles to Vancouver Island and spend a couple of days touring the island. But when we got there an hour before the ferry was supposed to leave, the line of cars stretched around the block. The first sailing was sold out, and so were all the rest that day. Ok, sounds like we weren't going to Vancouver Island. We quickly developed Plan B and spent the rest of the week in the Cascades. Our vacation in Washington and British Columbia became a vacation in Washington. But we had been intrigued by Vancouver Island and always planned to visit it someday.

Fast forward to summer of 2014 and the idea of visiting Vancouver Island came up again. I had four weeks off in July and we were thinking of where we could go. We had just done a big trip to Peru so we wanted to limit expenses. We had also just gotten Abby and didn't want to spend too long away from home. A ten day trip to Vancouver Island seemed just the thing.

Our car is tucked away below decks on the ferry

This time, we went online and made reservations for the ferry several weeks ahead of time. We also made arrangements for our friend Sara to stay at our house while we were gone. She loves dogs and we knew that she would do a good job of watching Abby. I also did research on hiking and other activities and got our hotels booked for the trip. This time we had everything set ahead of time.

The first day was just eleven hours of driving to Port Angeles but it was a pleasant drive. We did a very short stop in Prosser Washington. Some of our favorite wineries are there. We only picked up two bottles of Thurston-Wolfe PGV and two bottles of Ortega (a Spanish varietal we hadn't tried beore) since we didn't want to have to pay tax to take them into Canada. We are hoping to stop again on our way home to get more.

We had an excellent view of Mt. Rainier as we crossed the Cascades. That is still one of my favorite mountains and I always enjoy seeing it. We also passed dozens of fruit stands on both sides of the mountains. We finally stopped at one and stocked up on fresh cherries, raspberries and blueberries. Since we had eaten a big lunch we thought that would be all we needed for dinner. It was the perfect time of year for finding fresh fruit.

Blue skies and a view of the Olympic mountains

We got to Port Angeles and found our motel. Since we were only a few blocks from the ferry terminal we walked down to check it out. They were still open so we were able to get the scoop on how their process worked in the morning. We were still paranoid after our last experience and didn,t want any problems this time.

We got a bit of a shock on our walk. The day before in Boise the high temperature had been over a hundred degrees. It was supposed to be a hundred and two today. In Port Angeles it was in the low sixties even though it was only seven in the evening. With a strong breeze, we needed to put on long pants and jackets. It was quite a change. This was the third time I have been to Port Angeles in the summer, either July or August, and I have never seen it get as warm as seventy degrees. I suspect not many people who live there put swimming pools in their back yards. After the hot weather we had been experiencing in Boise, the coolness was refreshing. Just to show that we were tough, we even stopped for ice cream before heading back to the hotel.

A seaplane takes off from Victoria harbor

They told us to be at the ferry terminal an hour before sailing. We were there fifteen minutes before that just to be safe. We were plenty early - we were the third care in line. After paying for our ticket we parked our car in the staging area. We had lots of time so we walked across the street to a creperie. According to their posted hours they were closed but the door was open and the guy was there. Sandy ordered a breakfast crepe while I just had sugar and cinnamon. They were awesome. We finished and were back to our car in plenty of time to see the ferry coming in from Victoria.

The docking process was interesting. The ferry came in at right angles to the pier. It stopped when the end of the pier was about one third of the way back from the bow. They tied off and then revved the engines to the right. The ship tried to move sideways but since the pier was in the way it pivoted at the point of contact until it had rotated a full ninety degrees. Now the stern was right against the ramp at the base of the pier. The end of the pier had to be sturdy since basically the ferry docked by trying as hard as it could to push the pier over.

Sandy in heaven - a lavender farm and a winery

The docking procedure took about ten minutes. Once the ramp dropped the cars started to drive off, which didn't take long. Then we drove on. Since the cars were all lined up in rows ahead of time it went fast. The ferry wasn't nearly full - it's not clear why we had so much trouble the last time we tried this. We parked and went up to the passenger lounge. It was a foggy morning - a bad sign for the start of our trip. Weather in British Columbia in the summer can go either way. It can be beautiful or it can rain for a week. There is a reason the forests there are so green.

The crossing took ninety minutes. About half way we broke out of the fog. It was just clinging to the shoreline along the north edge of the Olympic Peninsula. Everywhere else was clear blue skies. We could see Vancouver Island getting closer and the Olympic Mountains receding behind us. As we pulled in to Victoria harbor, a sea plane took off, passing right by our ferry.

Damali Lavender and Winery

Docking was much simpler and quicker in Victoria. We pulled up to the doc sideways and lowered a ramp on the front side of the boat. Since we drove on from the back we were all pointing forward and could just drive off. We were at the front so we were one of the first ones off and near the head of the line for customs. In five minutes we were through and on our way.

Today was a travel day. Our plan was to drive to the north end of the island, or at least as far north as we were planning to go. Then over the next week we would work our way back south to Victoria. That way we would have a preview of the various areas on the island as we drove along and would have an idea of where we wanted to spend more time on the way back. It also worked out better for the weekend and booking hotels. That all sounds very logical but I will confess that the real reason was that the impressive mountains were up north and I wanted to get started hiking right away. The coast and the wineries and the quilt shops would have to wait.

Lovely gardens at Damali Lavender and Winery

But not too long. There was one place that was a combination of winery and lavender farm that was at the top of Sandy's list. When we saw the sign for it along the highway we took the next exit. We found it but it was closed. It was 10:50 and they didn't open till 11 am. There was another winery just down the road and fortunately they opened at 10 am. We tried several wines at Enrico Winery and they were all good. We started off planning to get three bottles, then four, then asked about a half case discount. The man serving us said that they did a 10% case discount but he would do 5% for a half case. We figured that was a good idea since that gave us a box with empty slots for wine we would get at other wineries. Unfortunately when we couldn't agree which wines and how many bottles to get, we ended up getting a full case anyway. They had a good Pinot Grigio. We also liked their Ortega wine. It is made from a German grape that is a cross between Muller-Thurgau and Seegerebe. It's grown mostly in Canada because it is very winter hardy. We even bought some red wine, a rose and a sparkling wine. Two hours in BC and we already had a full case of wine. We should have brought a bigger car.

Our lunch stop in Chamainus

Then it was back to Damali Lavender and Winery. It was a very pretty setting with the vinyard and lavender fields. They had a lavender shop with all kinds of lavender products. We also tasted some wines. They were more unusual wines, mostly blended with lavender. They were a lavender farm first and a winery second. But they were interesting and Sandy can't resist anything made with lavender. We bought three bottles of wine and Sandy got a bottle of lotion as well. Then it was time to get back on the road.

We stopped for lunch in the town of Chemainus. It had a cute downtown area where many of the buildings had wall murals. There were footsteps painted on the sidewalk and whenever you passed a mural the steps turned sideways with the word "Look" painted in big letters. We had delicious sandwiches at the Willow Street Cafe, sitting on the patio enjoying the nice weather. The only problem was that it was too much. We wouldn't need dinner tonight.

Sunset view from our patio at Strathcona Park Lodge

After our multiple stops now we had to cover some distance. We made good time and reached the Strathcona Park Lodge around 5 pm. It's a rustic lodge right on the shores of Upper Campbell Lake. After we checked in we walked along the lakeshore and then did a short hike in the forest before returning to the lodge for the evening. We took the hiking guide to the lounge and studied it carefully over several glasses of Rigamarole White, a delicious blend from a winery in the Okanagon Valley. From studying the guide book and talking to the people at the lodge we picked out a good hike for the next day. From drinking the wine we may have picked out a destination for our trip next summer, Southwestern British Columbia. We finished the evening sitting on the patio outside our room where we had a beautiful view of the lake. We could admire the sunset on the mountains and lake. An excellent end to a long and eventful day and an excellent start for our visit to Vancouver Island.