West Coast Wild
For a few seasons my summer job was being a visitor counsellor at the information centre in Valemount. I absolutely loved it, not only did we get to go on tours and activities to gain a greater knowledge of what British Columbia had to offer, we even got paid to do it. My daily job was basically to tell strangers how awesome my home town was, especially for outdoor enthusiasts. I soon learned every detail of each hike, bike route, small adventure, and big multi-day trek that this valley had to offer. Every single day a new visitor would come in and tell me about their exciting BC trip - where they've been, what they've seen and what they're about to do. And it never made any sense to me that person who doesn't even live in Canada has seen more of this province than I have... and I was raised here! So this is what gave me the idea to design an adventure packed 10 day vacation to the West Coast of Canada.
I loaded up my old Ford pick up with camping gear and a mountain bike and began the 6 hour journey to Kelowna, where I would be picking up the best adventure companion, Natasha. She had recently just completed a long distance bike touring trip from Thunder Bay, Ontario to her current location in British Columbia - thats over 2500KM! (we are currently planning a bike trip from Ontario to PEI - stay tuned for that!). A girl who is blunt and outspoken, funny and fearless. A wild soul with the kindest heart - there is never a dull moment with her.
The following morning we were off to the races! We had 10 days of freedom during one of the hottest months of the year. We started our trip by driving to Pemberton and headed north west through Merritt and Lilooett on the #8, #12 and eventually turning into the #99. These highways are not for the faint of heart. Packed full with overhanging cliffs and steep drop offs, these windy roads perfectly compliment the rolling hills. We found ourselves slowing down to 30KM/H on some of the corners. I wouldn't of had it any other way though, this route boasts with beauty with every bend, all while following the Fraser River.
Upon arriving in Pemberton, our plan was to camp at The Keyhole Hotsprings. Unfortunately, we discovered that this area was closed off due to the aggressive the bear behaviour they were experiencing from people leaving their garbage behind. It was all a blessing in disguise, because that forced us to find an alternative place to stay. This led us 8.5 KM down In-shuck-ch Forest Service Road to Twin One Creek. A gorgeous recreational site off Lillooet Lake that we only had to share with one other camper and no angry bears. If you're looking for some peace and quiet, this was the place to get it. We set up camp just in time for for dinner and a beautiful sunset swim.
Waking up the next morning was easy knowing we were about to go skydiving! We had booked a month prior with a company called Whistler Skydiving (located in Pemberton). This activity has ALWAYS been on my bucket list and because I don't trust myself enough to go solo, we opted for the tandem option. We signed our lives away, had a nervous pee, and got geared up and ground briefed. The day was perfect without a breath of wind. I wish we had gotten a picture of what the clouds were doing that day, even the instructors who do this all the time were blown away by them. Things didn't start feeling real until I watched Natasha and her instructor double front flip out the door, she told me later that they had sung Wild World by Cat Stevens all the way to the bottom together haha. Reality really set in and when my brain registered that it was my turn next. I wasn't truly scared until this very moment with my legs dangling over the edge, looking down at the earth 10,000 feet below me. The first 45 seconds of free fall are the best, your stomach is in your throat and all you want to do is laugh and scream all at the same time. I cant even begin to explain how terrifyingly fun it is. Eventually you pull the chord and the parachute is released, bringing you to what feels like a complete stop. Suddenly your steering and cartwheeling through the air, doing controlled figure eights and circles. Taking in the view of Lillioet lake, and slowly coming down from the high you were once at. It was amazing and so much fun. Great for anyone, from thrill seekers to people who want to conquer their fear of heights - which we were told happens more often than you would think it does. This portion of our trip cost $279 plus $85 for photos, and it was completely worth it. Next stop, Whistler.
Whistler. The very reason we lugged our mountain bikes around for the past 940KM. Unfortunately, when we arrived there was a 70% chance of thunderstorms. Fortunately, that wasn't about to stop us. We spent the majority of the day in the village, taking in all that Whistler has to offer: world class mountain biking. We were ripping the hill, jumping the jumps, and had the odd scorpion style wipe out from time to time. But nothing a quick beer at the base couldn't fix up. And the benefit to biking in the rain? Not one line up the entire day. If you're planning on visiting this park, you can save a bit of money by either pre-purchasing your tickets online or by doing a half day (3:30PM - 8:00PM) which they refer to as "Extended Play". New to biking? No problem. Bike rental businesses and hired instructors thrive in this busy, little village. Give it a try!
Squamish is a great town, made especially famous for its outdoor recreation. My boyfriend was once an professional athlete and a few of his old teammates reside here, so we decided to stop in and have a beer with them. But first we were eager to see the area. We started at Shannon Falls. This beautiful waterfall stands 335 meters high and can be seen from the highway. I will warn you - it is a crazy popular area, packed full of tourists. Although the signs said not to, we took an old trail that brought us right to the base of the falls. It was so refreshing, but really slippery and pretty dangerous. We survived with just a few scrapes for battle wounds. The next big thing to do in Squamish is the Sea to Sky Gondola (full blown tourist mode, I know). We weren't really convinced this was something we would actually enjoy, but we went for it and ended up having a total blast. Once you reach the top, there are various hiking trails that lead you to even more picturesque locations, overlooking the north end of Howe Sound and the famous Stawamus Chief. We easily spent the next 5 hours exploring in the sun on a mountain top. Squamish also had a really cute farmers market while we were there. Every Saturday venders set up downtown from 10AM - 3PM. Theres tons of local talent selling everything from their paintings, to carvings and hand made jewelry. Honey and jam samples, baked goods and fresh veggies. We wondered for over an hour talking to each vender. Overall I really loved Squamish, it had a great sense of community and a small town feel - but still had all the essential amenities. Not to mention the obvious passion the locals here share for the great outdoors. If I was ever forced to up and leave my beautiful mountain home town, Squamish would be an easy move.
Vancouver is an easy hour long drive from Squamish along the Sea to Sky highway. The very first day we began our trip, I had to block my mom on Facebook. No, it wasn't so she could see and disapprove of all the terrible things we were up too, it was because we had planned this trip specifically around her and didn't want to ruin the suprise. My mother had been fighting breast cancer and her final round of radiation fell on the day before we arrived in Vancouver. At this point in time she had been away from home for 3 consecutive weeks, staying with friends and family in Burnaby. I had told her that we were on a road trip, but wouldn't be anywhere near Vancouver at any point. She had the surprise of a lifetime when we just so happened to walk into the same coffee shop she was eating her lunch in. My moms reaction was priceless! (watch the video below). It just goes to show that spreading a little love goes a long way. Of course my mom wanted to celebrate that evening in true Filipino fashion. Which meant, shoving our faces full of delicious food and singing karaoke at the top of our lungs. And because we love her, we played along.
That night was a blur, we met up with one of my cousins and went out on the town. If you want to party, you'll find it in Vancouver, it doesn't matter what day of the week it is. We just happened to be there on a Saturday night and it was unlike anything I had seen before, and coming from a town of 1000 people, I have a hard time wrapping my head around these things. They shut down all of Grandville Street. People were hopping from bar to bar, crowds pouring onto the street in search of food, booze and god knows what else. Natasha almost got us into a bar fight and I got made fun of for wearing my shit kickers in downtown Vancouver haha (I still don't care what they say, those boots looked great with my dress 😉). It was so nice catching up with old friends and distant relatives. The next day we sported our hangovers with pride (and gatorade) while we explored the Capilano Bridge just burning some time waiting for our ferry departure.
There are a number of ferry routes you can take while crossing over from the mainland to Vancouver Island. We picked crossing from West Vancouver over to Nanaimo (Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay). It took about 1 hour and 40 minutes to cross and because we paid an extra $17.00 for a reservation, we didn't have to wait in line for too long and we had a guaranteed spot on the ferry. You can also just show up unannounced, but you run the risk of not getting on the ferry, especially during long weekends.
When we arrived on the island, we had planned on heading straight to Tofino. But there was something about Nanaimo that really drew us in. After eating a nice lunch right on the harbour, we made a quick stop at Nanaimo's visitor centre. There was so much to do here! We decided to spend the rest of our day exploring this town. Our first stop was at Neckpoint Beach in search of some marine life. This area is well known for its abundance of starfish. At first we didn't know what to look for, but after about 20 minutes of searching we finally found the first little guy. Look for purple and orange stars and they will start popping up everywhere! It was a really cool experience for inlanders like us.
We had heard that there was a great cliff jumping area near Nanaimo. We had also heard that they don't like to advertise it because of the amount of tourists who get hurt in this location every summer. But after talking to a few of the locals we finally grasped an idea of where they were located. So here's the big secret: if you head south on Highway 1 for about 10 minutes you will see a right hand turn bringing you onto Nanaimo River Road. We learned that whenever there were a swarm of cars parked on the left hand side of this road, it was often because a great swimming hole was located on the river there. If you follow Nanaimo River Road for about 3.4KM, it brings you to "The Trestle", which is an old railway bridge that once crossed the river. Its SO amazing here. When I think of the Island, I often think of this spot first. The water is so warm, you could swim in it all day if your heart desired. Being raised on glacier fed rivers and lakes, this was a huge treat for me. The river did an amazing job of polishing the rocks and formations around it, ridding of all jagged corners and tapered ends. The high sided canyons of solid rock and boulder are polished to perfection and so interesting to observe. The river is also responsible for forming awesome underwater caves and passageways, so make sure to bring snorkelling gear!
The cliff jumps range from beginner to flat out crazy. The trestle jump itself is the main reason why so many people get hurt here and has even claimed a few lives. Please be cautious, there's a reason the visitor centre wouldn't tell us how to get to these cliffs, and its not only because they want to keep this amazing place a local secret.
After an adventure packed afternoon full of exploring the deep pools of the Nanaimo River, we wondered into town in search of a shower (at the laundry mat) and a meal. The Dinghy Dock is a floating pub with great views and awesome fish and chips. For $9 (return trip) a cute ferry departs every hour bringing you over to the restaurant.
We set up our tent at the river that night completely satisfied with the amazing introduction we had just received of the island lifestyle. The next day I couldn't help but have one last early morning dip in the deep green pools before departing Nanaimo.
The chill vibes of Tofino were calling our names... but theres just so much to see and do on the 3 hour journey across the island to the real west coast of BC. After some light ocean exploration in Parksville, and a quick ice cream stop in the wacky town of Coombs (they have goats on the roof of certain buildings - no joke), we decided we had to pullover just one more time in MacMillan Park. This park is home to a popular forest known as Cathedral Grove, which is famous for its ancient Douglas fir ecosystem. This park protects trees that are upwards of 800 years old, some measuring 250 feet tall and about 29 feet in circumference. A short, easy loop walk guides you through the forest with informative signboards helping you grasp and understand how big these trees really are. There was a certain stillness to our trip as we were humbled by these majestic giants.
Tofino! Finally! A small bustling town attracting surfers, swimmers, and sun worshipers. A place full of youth and great energy. It's almost impossible to feel gloomy while being so close to the ocean and around so many like-minded people. Our first challange upon arriving was finding accommodation. If you plan on camping in Tofino, I highly recommend making reservations at least 4 months prior to arriving. I tried booking in the beginning of May for our July trip and I had zero luck. Everything was already reserved! And don't think you'll get away with just random camping on the beach, there are signs and regulations everywhere ensuring that people wont setup there. Natasha and I tried our luck with the campgrounds hoping there would be a cancelation. Nothing, not even room for a small two man tent at any of the campgrounds. We just ended up making a cozy nest in the box of my truck and prayed each night to the weather Gods that it wouldn't rain.
As everyone already knows, Tofino is famous for it's small surf swells in the summertime. There is no shortage of surf rental shops or instructors here. After shopping around, we decided to go with Pacific Surf School. Group introductory lessons cost $85/person and include a wetsuit, surf board, and 2 hilarious instructors. The school even hires a photographer to capture every moment while you get put through the washing machine.
In the past, I spent 3 weeks learning to surf in Nicaragua and hardly got anywhere with it. I can comfortably stand up and play in the white wash, but for now, that's about it. For most people, its a really challenging sport to learn and requires a great deal of practice. I suggest hiring a surf instructor if you're new, I really don't think its one of those sports you can learn on your own. And to answer your question: no, its nothing like snowboarding. I'll break down what to expect on your first day:
- Lay on surfboard.
- Look back and feel surprisingly intimidated by a 3 foot wave.
- PANIC AND PADDLE.
- Try and stand up in one motion (which hardly ever happens).
- Get knocked off and fall into the water.
- Drown a little more.
- Choke on burning salt water.
I'm totally joking! It's really so much more enjoyable than that. Nothing beats the feeling of actually standing up and catching your first wave. Eventually you'll learn how to read the water in this weird and chaotic environment. Maybe one day I'll trade my mountains in for the ocean. But for now, I'll stick to a sea of white gold and my snowboard.
We spent our final days in Tofino wandering through cute gift and coffee shops, going on stunning hikes, paddle boarding and visiting new beaches everyday. It was a great way to unwind and end a hectic road trip. I'm always surprised with how much you can accomplish in a single week, fortunately we were given 10 full days. Overall the trip didn't feel too rushed and we did the majority of things we had planned on doing. My only disappointment on this trip was not making it to Ucluelet - a much quieter town than Tofino, only a 30 minute drive away. On our last day we were pretty ready to sleep in our own beds and to not have to search multiple buildings for something as simple as a shower. Vacations are wonderful, but it always feels so great to be back home.