Thursday, 14 November 2013

And back to Vancouver one last time to cap off our trip…

As you probably know, I am kinda in love with Vancouver so it was only fitting to end our Americas trip in one of our favourite Cities in the world.

Originally we were going to be spending a few nights in Victoria and were only going back to Vancouver to catch our flight, but as we would be arriving in Victoria just after Thanksgiving, no one could host us. After sending numerous requests with no luck we gave up and decided to go back to Vancouver for our last 5 nights instead. We have visited Victoria a couple of times before a few years ago so didn’t mind not being able to revisit this time, there will always be a next time – with me and Canada that is definite.

It was quite the Odyssey getting to Vancouver from Quadra. It involved 7 hours of travel involving 2 ferries and 4 rides hitching to get there. Hitching in Canada has been really good to us despite us carrying mountains of stuff and although it took us 4 rides to get from Campbell River to Nanaimo, we never waited for longer than 1 hour and everyone that picked us up was so friendly and helpful, dropping us places where we could pick up another ride easily. Our second driver dropped us in Courtenay near the highway heading to Nanaimo. We were crossing a road and someone started beeping at us. It turned out to be our Host David from Denman Island with Tippy and Skipper! He comes to Courtenay every Tuesday to attend a Photography class and do his shopping. We went to Tim Hortons with him for a donut and a catch up. It was really nice to see him again one last time. He dropped us at the entrance to the highway and we got a ride within minutes all the way to the ferry terminal.

We had only been away from Vancouver for 3 ½ weeks but the weather had changed dramatically since we were there last. It was as cold as Quadra (read: very cold) and the trees were shedding their crimson leaves. Nicole took us out to dinner to a Vegetarian Restaurant called Federation in Mount Pleasant on our first night back. They had the most amazing nachos and great craft beer on tap. It was a nice, relaxed evening after a long day of travelling.

Being back at 261 W 19th was like a home coming of sorts. When you are travelling long term, only lingering in one place for a matter of days, somewhere where you have friends and feel comfortable can very quickly feel like home. We had evenings just chilling out; watching movies, sipping tea, cooking dinner and talking trash. That flat and everyone in it has such a great dynamic and it is such a fun and lively place to stay. Nicole, Bridge and Ed: We miss you guys and your glorious share house!

We met our friend Jasmine in Chinatown for a dim sum lunch one day at our favourite dim sum place, Jade Dynasty. I love this place despite its no frill décor because the food is really delicious while still being very affordable. I had my 27th Birthday here back when we were living in Van. We got a mix of small dishes and shared them and it was even better than I remember. After bidding farewell to Jasmine we headed to Dr Sun Yat Sen Park. It is a small oasis with bonsai trees, bamboo groves and a koi carp pond; a sanctuary from the crowded and shabby streets of Chinatown.  There is a manicured garden next door to the park which costs $15 to enter. The Park is free so we skipped the garden and soaked up some Autumn sun, watching the turtles beached on logs in the pond doing the same.

After a detour through the cobbled streets of Gastown for maple based souvenirs for family, we headed to the Yaletown Farmers Market before walking home. Markets are just the best. The free taste tests, quirky food stalls (vegan and wheat free grain and seed pate anyone?) the delicious organic vegetables, live music and sweet treats. I tried the above mentioned pate (actually damn good), Masala Chai and organic brownies. There was a lovely Quebecoise stall holder selling homemade maple products and I bought a delectable mini maple pecan pie from him. What I will do when I can’t get maple favoured treats anymore – I can’t bear to think about it.

To work off the daily Cream Sodas and Maple treats, Ed and Bridge kindly leant us their bikes. Gloves were needed to combat the chilly wind but the sun was shining and the sky was the bluest of blue. We biked the classic False Creek and Seawall route. I could bike this route every single day and not get sick of it, it fails to disappoint. It truly encompasses the best of Vancouver: incredible water and mountain views, coastal rainforest, rugged Pacific beaches, colourful totem poles and racoons, bald eagles, seals and otters abound. When it isn’t raining, Fall is the most beautiful season to be in Vancouver. The green landscape is at its greenest, the leaves are bright and colourful, there aren’t the crazy tourist numbers of summer and it is the perfect temperature to bike and hike without overheating. Not to mention the Pumpkin spice lattes! We stopped for lunch at Fatburger on Denman Street for lunch. It is a small burger chain that started in the States and does AMAZING burgers with delicious ingredients.

We used the bikes again another day and set out through the low fog to Granville Island for lunch. As I mentioned in previous posts, Granville Island is one of my favourite places in Vancouver and I love exploring the Galleries and shops and eating in the market. We had lunch at the market food court and for once it wasn’t a bum fight for a table. We got one overlooking the water and felt warm and cosy in the bustling market hall while it was cold and misty outside. I really wanted to get some art prints of a particular First Nations Artist that I like so we searched the small Art Galleries for his work, but unfortunately didn’t have any luck.

We biked on to our old hood, Kitsilano, and stopped to warm up with some authentic Masala Chai at East is East on Broadway.  Our insides toasty with milky, spicy goodness, we biked down to Jericho Beach and along the coast to Locarno and Spanish Banks beaches. The fog drifted even lower the further west we pedalled and all was quiet. It felt quite eerie as the silence was only broken by the fog horns of the mist shrouded cargo ships, close to shore but invisible, encased in a blanket of grey. We biked through the suburban streets of Kits, along towering tree lined roads with the sidewalks coated with a thick layer of crispy leaves. We got a bit lost amongst the mansions of affluent Arbutus Ridge, where the roads which had been on a grid system in Kits, suddenly went haywire. However, we managed to make our way back to the house after a few wrong turns.

Vancouver has more than its fair share of Breweries and after sampling the wares at the fabulous Parallel 49 in summer, we decided to visit a new Brewery in Mount Pleasant: Brassneck. I think half the population of Vancouver had the same idea as us because there was a massive line of people getting their growlers (beer jug)  filled up (gotta love the name, well maybe not if you are British) as well as a mighty long wait for seats in the Bar. Brassneck Brewery doesn’t have a food licence so they have a different food truck parked outside each evening where you can line your stomach before some beer tasting. This is a popular partnership in Craft beer meccas San Diego and Portland and it is a great combination – food trucks and craft beer – easily two of my favourite things. The long wait was worth it and we ended up with a screened off private table for the four of us. We all got a paddle of 4 small beers to try a variety. I was disappointed that they didn’t have any fruit ales but I enjoyed their Multiweizen 5 grain and Saison beers.

When we saw the weather forecast for our time back in Vancouver was going to be sunny, we decided that we must do a hike. Back in 2009 on a sunny Autumn day in Vancouver we hiked the Grouse Grind and I loved hiking in the crisp air. This time around for our Fall hike we planned to do the Lions Binkert trail with our friends Shaun and Brittany. The Lions are a pair of pointed peaks in the North Shore Mountains which are visible from Vancouver.  It is a 16km return trail with an elevation gain of 1280 metres – so pretty difficult. Vancouver was foggy when we were picked up at 8am. We drove across the Lions Gate bridge (named after the Lions) to Lions Bay (also named after the Lions) where the hike began.

The trail started out slowly, ascending along a gravel road through the forest. After crossing a small bridge the trail became a lot steeper. We climbed steep steps, over fallen tree trunks and rocky terrain, up through the forest till we reached a viewpoint, well above the layer of soupy fog coating the City below. It was hard work getting up there and we still had another hour of climbing to go. We ate lunch and rested our weary bodies in the shade of the West Lion, towering over us. Pushing on, we scrambled over loose rocks and scaled large boulders to get to the end of the trail, right across from the sheer rock face of the West Lions Peak. The view was truly spectacular, snow covered mountains in all directions and the layers of fog well below us now. The fog had cleared in West Vancouver and we could see the sparkling waters and small islands of Howe Sound. Shaun had brought a couple of Granville Island Lions Winter Ale up so we had a drink of Lions at the Lions. Some crazy thrillseekers weren’t just content in getting to the Lions, they decided to scale them too. That is some serious rock climbing so we decided to give it a miss. Going down was hard going on the knees and I could barely walk by the time we got back to the car. Such a fantastic hike and highly recommended if you want a challenge.

Our last (sore) day in Vancouver we enjoyed one last delicious and cheap sushi lunch with our friends from 261, a fitting farewell to Sushi obsessed Vancouver.
Our flight to San Francisco was uneventful. When checking in for our second flight to New Zealand, we were told that Trav needed to have a flight booked to leave NZ within 3 months or they wouldn’t let him in! We only had just over 1 hour between flights so we frantically searched for flights and managed to find one that wasn’t too expensive. It took 13 hours to fly to Auckland from San Fran and it was pretty painful with both of us feeling zombiefied on arrival in the early hours of Trav’s birthday.

So that is the end of our epic adventure. I don’t know how I feel about it. I am really sad to leave Canada but I know that it isn’t the same when it is cold and grey so it is a good time to say goodbye. I haven’t been home to New Zealand for 2 years and 8 months. It is the longest period I have been away in my life and I am yearning to go home.

We will be back in New Zealand for 3 months to apply for Trav’s Australian visa then we will be moving to Sydney for the foreseeable future. It may be the end of our Americas trip but it certainly isn’t the end of our travels! Long term travel has been a life changing experience and has really tested our resolve and patience but has given us the gift of a truly liberating sense of freedom and priceless memories. We have learnt so much both from experiences we shared and the people we met along the way. It truly was an epic adventure.

Monday, 4 November 2013

More island time on Quadra and giving thanks on Canada’s Thanksgiving

After our positive experience on Denman, we were excited to explore another of BC’s beautiful islands, Quadra, which is one of the Discovery Islands located further north of Denman.

We took the short ferry ride from Campbell River to the island where our host, Linda, was waiting for us. The ferry comes into the community of Quathiaski Cove, one of the three main centres on the island, along with Heriot Bay and Cape Mudge. We stopped to look around the small shopping centre in Q Cove while Linda ran some errands. There was a fantastic book shop specialising in British Columbia coastal books that I somehow managed to not spend any money, it always helps when you don’t actually have any.

After leaving the shops in Q Cove we headed over to the other side of the island to Heriot Bay where Linda’s guesthouse is located. It is right on the water and offers a range of different accommodation choices including a float home (not in the water), a cottage, boathouse cabin, a main house with bedrooms, dorms and apartments. Linda has made it so cosy and I love that there are different types of accommodation at different prices. It is exactly the sort of place I would love to own myself one day.

Heriot Bay has stunning views of the tiny Breton islands, Rebecca Spit and the snow-capped coastal mountains on the mainland. I fell in love with the place instantly. It really is breathtaking. The water is so still and clear and I wish it had been warm enough to swim.

Linda put us in the float home first but as the mattress was only a single, she said we could stay in the Boathouse cabin, provided we kept it tidy in case someone wanted to rent it. Trav and I are both super tidy so that was no problem. The boat house is along a beachside path and although small, it is completely self-contained with a studio apartment comprising a raised double bed, a cute little kitchen and a dining table with an outdoor shower and outhouse toilet. Trav was brave and showered outside everyday but it was too cold for me! I used the shower in the main house and even had a couple of highly relaxing baths in the B & B room, what a treat!

The boathouse is built on stilts out over the pebbly beach. Every morning when we woke up, we made coffee in our little kitchen then sat at the table, looking out over Heriot Bay. We saw bald eagles and seals out of the window, only metres away from us.

We were also spoilt with really good food. Jess, one of Linda’s friends, was staying for the first three days we were there and made us lunch and dinner each day. She is a Kayak guide and cook in summer and is a cook at a Lodge in winter. She is very good at what she does. We had fresh salmon, homemade soups and salads, apple crumble, locally picked mushroom pasta and slow cooked stew.

If it started getting cold in Denman, then it really settled in on Quadra. It was lucky I got warm clothes at the Free Store on Denman, because I needed to wear pretty much all of them to keep warm on the frosty mornings and chilly nights as the season of crimson leaves and pumpkins gripped the island. Despite the cold, it was sunny nearly every day that we were there, in stark contrast to our soggy sojourn on Denman.

As we were at the Guesthouse in the off season, there weren’t any guests staying for the week we were there. Because there were no rooms to clean, we did some odd jobs such as weeding, creating a rock garden, cooking, cleaning and Linda even took us mushroom picking. Chanterelle mushrooms grow in the forests of Quadra in Fall. They grow in clusters amongst the moss at the base of trees. We went to an overgrown section of the forest where Linda had picked before. There were so many large mushrooms and within half an hour of clambering over fallen, rotting trees and moss covered undergrowth, we had filled a bucket each. I lost the others and it was fun exploring the hidden forested world by myself. I wouldn’t have been surprised to bump into a fairy or a knome, it was certainly a fairy tale setting.

Heriot Bay with its natural beauty just invited a stroll. On a few afternoons after finishing work for the day we went for a wander around the streets and harbour of this tiny community. The Heriot Bay Inn and Pub is nestled in a prime position, perched above the branch strewn and pebbled beach, awash with the colours of the season from the stately maple trees fringing the property. We sat under the brilliant coloured trees and went for walks along the curved beach, checking out the weather worn fishing boats in the harbour.

Quadra Island has 2700 year round residents including the We Wai Kai band of the Laichwiltach People, part of the Kwa' Kwa' Ka' Wa'Kw First Nation. It is the largest island in the Discovery Islands chain between Vancouver Island and the mainland. There are a number of lakes on Quadra and over 200km of hiking trails through untouched forest.

On our day off, Linda dropped us at the Chinese Mountain trailhead, a popular loop trail to the summit of the North and South peaks of Chinese Mountain. It was a fairly easy hike past yellow leaved trees and exposed moss covered rock. We went up to the North Peak first which was a bit of a detour off the main loop trail. There is a beautiful view at the top of Discovery Passage and Vancouver Island. We didn’t see anyone else out walking despite it being a beautiful, sunny Thanksgiving Sunday. Once we got to the top of the South peak there were a few people around. The view from the top was spectacular, looking out over the west coast of Quadra Island, Morte Lake, Rebecca Spit, Discovery Passage and the Coast Mountains of Vancouver Island.

We ate our packed lunch at the top and checked out all of the viewpoints before starting the second half of the loop to hike back down. I thought Trav was following me but when I realised he wasn’t, I went back to where I had last seen him. I walked around the summit for about 15 minutes yelling his name but there was no sign of him. I started to get a bit worried and wasn’t sure what to do. I decided to head down the trail to the beginning, hoping he had just gone back the way we had come for some unknown reason. I got about 5 minutes down the trail and I heard him yelling for me and waited for him to catch up. He had thought that we had to go back down the way that we came and had gone quite a way down that path before realising I wasn’t there, so had run back up the mountain to find me. I was angry at first because he had worried me but he was very apologetic so I couldn’t stay mad for long.

We hitched once we got back on the road and scored a ride straight away with another couple that had also just finished the hike. They were visiting from Courtenay where they have a farm. They take on woofers so we told them about Help X and how it works. They were very interested and said they would check it out.

Rebecca Spit is another definite must see on Quadra. It is a narrow 2km sand spit with trails and driftwood strewn beaches. Linda took us there on our first afternoon for a wander. More fantastic views of the snow-capped Coast Mountains, the Breton Islands and Heriot Bay. It was a fantastic introduction to the natural beauty of this island.

A fun afternoon was spent kayaking around Heriot Island using the kayaks from the Guesthouse. I am not a keen kayaker usually. It is an activity that I always think will be great fun but when it comes down to it, I haven’t enjoyed most of my kayaking experiences, mainly because I get seasick. Yes, I get seasick from kayaking. Weird huh? The water is so calm in the bay so I decided to give it another try and I am so glad that I did. We only went out for an hour but it was such a beautiful experience. We saw hundreds of jellyfish swimming at different depths in the inky black water and a great blue heron perched to dive for fish on the rocky island. I will definitely do it again but perhaps only when the water is calm.

We like to attend community events when visiting small towns if possible as it is a fun way to really get a feel for what life is like for the people who live there. Like on Denman, Heriot Bay is a small close-knit community and there are a lot of fun activities held nearly every day of the week. We attended the Premiere of a short film that was filmed on Quadra by a local Director with local actors. It was $5 to attend and there was a massive turn out. There were complimentary homemade goodies, popcorn as well as tea and coffee on offer. The movie was called ‘My Cousin Lived Next Door’ and it is about two cousins who grew up together with one ending up as a Professional in Vancouver and the other as a drug addict. It was well shot and interesting but I found it a bit hard to follow in regards to the same character being played by 3 different people at different ages; a bit hard to follow. They gave awards to the cast and crew who attended after the film finished. It was nice to be a part of it.

Another local event, the ‘meat draw’, is a raffle held at the Canadian Legion every Saturday evening. Linda took us along with her for a drink and the chance to win some meat. The first couple of draws we didn’t win anything but on the last draw we won a massive ham and some sausages. Trav thinks that having a raffle for meat is pretty funny but as a New Zealander, this is pretty normal to me.

Linda’s friend Frank lives down the road and is a very talented Stonemason. As well as building the outdoor fireplace at Linda’s, he was building one in his own backyard along with a pizza oven and invited us all over for a drink by the fire one night. It was a cold evening but after sitting by the roaring fire for a while we warmed up pretty fast. He had done an amazing job so far and it was a nice feeling to sit outside on a cold Fall night, kept warm and entranced by the orange flames against the black night sky.

When we were looking at flights back to New Zealand for October, I was adamant that we fly after Canadian Thanksgiving which is on the second Monday of the month. Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest and blessings of the past year and is a time for family to come together to feast on turkey and pumpkin pie. It is a lot of Canadian’s favourite holiday and I can see why as it is a time to enjoy spending quality time and eating delicious food with family and friends without the religious connotation and pressure/cost of gift giving. Back when we were living in Vancouver in 2009, we didn’t celebrate it so I was so excited to be part of this fantastic celebration this time around. Linda invited Frank, her son with his girlfriend and their new born baby, her niece and husband, her friend Leslie and Leslie’s woofer. We had a really fun evening starting with some beers out by the outdoor fireplace that Frank had built, followed by a massive turkey, a baked ham (that Trav and I had won at the meat draw), lots of veggies and two pumpkin pies. Everyone was so nice and we felt so welcome. It felt special to be involved in this quintessential Canadian experience.

One week on Quadra was definitely not enough time, especially as we only had one full day off. It is such a beautiful island with so much to explore. I would like to come back and work for Linda again one summer to hopefully learn more about how the business is run and to get some hands on experience.

Our last stop on our trip was back in Vancouver where we were spending five days before flying to New Zealand. It seems unbelievable that after travelling for over a year, our big trip is nearly over!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Unexpected treasures of Denman Island, one of BC’s breath-taking Gulf Islands

Volunteering on Denman Island only became part of our plans at the last minute because of our bad experience at Osoyoos. It is funny how the unplanned parts of your travels and life can turn out to be the most satisfying.

After arriving by ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, we hitched up to Buckley Bay where the ferry departs to Denman Island.  We were lucky and got a ride straight away with a friendly ex-con with two little dogs who barked at us like mad when we first got in but were snuggled up next to me on a mattress in the back by the time we arrived in Buckley Bay. The rain started while we were in the car so we had a wet crossing to the island.

Denman Island is only a 10 minute ferry trip from Buckley Bay. Our Host, David, picked us up from the wharf with his two friendly Border collies, Tippy and Skipper. David’s house is perched on a hill overlooking a marsh from the back of the house, and over the sea and Hornby Island from the front. He describes his house, which he built himself, as Hippy Gothic and I think that description fits it perfectly. It is made of recycled wood and has a lot of big windows, there is even an indoor greenhouse room which is also where the shower is. It took me a couple of days to get used to but I ended up loving my open showers amongst the plants. We were given a cosy private room on the ground floor and spent our first evening listening to the sound of the heavy rain pounding on the roof.

David’s dogs, Tippy and Skipper, are such lovely creatures. Border collies always seem to have such a loving nature and these two were no exception. Skipper is Tippy’s son and is crossed with a Himalayan Sheep dog. They both have such different personalities. Tippy is so lovable and craves attention, constantly nuzzling up to you and wanting to be petted. He loves playing catch with any sticks or balls he can find. Skipper is more of a loner and is not the least bit interested in fetching a stick, he still loves a good pat though. When we took them down to the beach, Skipper was captivated by watching the tiny fish in the tide pools. He would stand with his paws in the water, perfectly still just staring. I wouldn’t call myself a dog person, I have always preferred cats, but these two may have just changed that.

Our work with David was varied and we were only required to work 4 hours a day so it left us with plenty of free time. David has 2 ½ acres and has a vege patch, apple trees, walnut trees, raspberry bushes and laying hens. My daily jobs included collecting eggs and picking up the walnuts. Trav did a lot of work sanding, plastering and painting the cabin that David built to rent out. I did some painting and managed to get paint EVERYWHERE including on my glasses and on my face and neck. We picked apples and I dug up potatoes and picked kale, raspberries and lettuce. I did a lot of gardening between the frequent rain showers. I learnt how to prune roses and grapevines and pulled out a lot of weeds. We also cleaned David’s house from top to bottom. I have found that I actually enjoy cleaning but didn’t like the close encounters with numerous spiders whilst destroying their webs.

Denman Island is not as well known by tourists as nearby Hornby Island with its white sand beach, which is reached by ferry from Gravelly Bay on Denman. A lot of tourists that set foot on Denman only do so to drive straight over to catch the ferry to Hornby, seeing very little of this incredible island. I do want to visit Hornby one day but we decided to focus all of our free time on exploring Denman this time around as we didn’t want to short change it. Every island has its own vibe and I wanted to find out what makes Denman unique. I came to appreciate the kindness of the locals and the simple, satisfying lives that they live on this small, forested island.

Like a lot of the other BC islands, Denman had a wave of new residents arrive in the 1970s including a lot of Vietnam War draft dodgers from the States. There was also a big back to land revolution going on with people picking up plots super cheap on the islands where they could build their homes, raise a family and live a self-sustainable lives. This movement is gaining momentum again now but unfortunately any current back-to-landers that want to move out to the islands have to pay a hefty price for a piece of paradise, unlike their predecessors of the 1970s.

Minke and racoons are a big problem to the small farmers on the island and the issue is a sore point, splitting the islanders into two factions with very different ideas on how to solve the problem. David shot a couple of racoons while we were there which he didn’t enjoy doing but he didn’t see another way to effectively stop them eating his walnuts, apples and even digging up his carrots. We also went over to his neighbour’s place to dispose of a minke that she trapped after it killed one of her chickens. Apparently Minke are quite vicious and will go on a killing frenzy, killing a whole coop of chickens if it manages to get in and it won’t even eat them, it just goes crazy with the taste of blood and will kill until there are none left. I am an animal lover but I try to be practical and see other people’s point of view. Unfortunately there is no easy way to solve the problem with these animals and I can completely understand where David is coming from. It was upsetting to see the dead animals but he killed them quickly and painlessly and although I didn’t like it, I think he did what he felt needed to be done.

Another pest on the island is the deer. They were absolutely everywhere, wandering through the forest and treating the roads as their own private thoroughfares. The fawns were very cute but the little buggers eat everyone’s flowers and vegetable gardens so they aren’t people’s favourite animals.

Denman Island, like most of the Gulf Islands I imagine, has a small tightknit community and there was a few community events on while we were there. David plays Volleyball every Thursday night with a ragtag bunch of locals of different ages. He persuaded us to go along and play with him on our first week. I was apprehensive as I am not exactly an avid sportswoman and I was always scared of playing volleyball when I was younger because I have very fragile wrists that hurt easily. Trav on the other hand was the Captain of his school Volleyball team in High School so he was excited to play again. I gave it a go and everyone was really patient with me but I can’t say I really enjoyed it as I did hurt my wrist every time I had to serve and I got hit in the face with the ball. I stayed home the following week.

There is a woman on the island who hosts small concerts at her house. Christa Couture, a folk singer from Courtenay on Vancouver Island, was playing while we were on the island and we went along with David. It was only $10 and she was so talented and such a lovely lady. There were only another four people there other than us and they had to leave to catch a ferry half way through so we basically got a private show. As well as being a fantastic singer, Christa also played piano and guitar during her performance. Her songs were melancholic and beautiful. She certainly has been through a lot in her life including losing two babies as well as her leg to bone cancer when she was 13. We felt incredibly lucky to have seen this inspirational person perform, just for us.

We attended David’s friend Tim’s housewarming one windy and rainy day. Tim is a lovely man originally from Winnipeg that decided in his 40s that he wasn’t happy with his life and decided to up sticks and go woofing in various places around BC. He fell in love with Denman and moved there four years ago. He is a big believer in living off the grid and had a small wooden cottage built for himself with an outdoor bath tub, outhouse and a wood fire stove. The only electricity he uses is a lamp that is hooked up to a car battery that is recharged by solar panels. He is still working on his labour of love and he plans to add an outdoor kitchen to put the bath tub in for winter. It already looked great with lots of beautiful wooden panels creating a light, open space and making it seem larger than it is. I really admire his passion for wanting to preserve the environment and I want to try making a concerted effort to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle in the future. The wind was howling outside but we were cosy and warm, eating the amazing pot luck offerings bought by guests and sipping on homemade flower petal tea.

Every Saturday, Denman Island has a Farmers Market in the Old School Centre with a handful of stalls. We went down there the three Saturdays that we were on the island, not so much for the market but for the free store. The free store is basically a Secondhand store with used clothes, shoes and appliances. What made it special was that everything in there was free (the name probably already gave that little surprise away). I didn’t have much warm clothing so I picked up a jersey dress and two cardigans. I was pretty happy with my loot because the weather got cold very fast once we arrived on the island (and rainy.. boy did it rain).  The Recycling Centre and Bottle Depot for the island are also located at the Old School Centre. Everyone brings their recyclable goods down on a Saturday to get bottle deposits refunded at the Bottle Depot and to take any recycling to the Recycling Centre. There were always so many people sorting out their recycling and going through the items that had been set aside for reuse such as bottles for home brewers, magazines/books and other interesting knick knacks that someone might want.

On one of our sunny days off, David dropped us at the north end of island where there is a forest walk to a sandy spit, the very end of the island. At low tide you can walk out to a small island, Sandy (aka Tree) Island, which is a Provincial Park and is made up of sand dunes and a small forest. We walked cliff side through the forest and out onto the thin, sandy spit. There were a lot of sea birds just off shore and the wind whipped us so that despite the sun, we felt cold. The tide was still too high when we got there so we sat on the beach and ate our lunch before exploring the coastline on a walk around the rocky shore of the North west of the island. When we came back, the waters had parted and a long stretch of muddy sand stretched out before us all the way to Sandy Island. It took us about 20 minutes to walk to the island and our shoes got a bit wet and muddy. The island has a magical feel to it. There was no sign of civilisation which made it feel untamed and wild. We didn’t get to explore properly as we had to meet David who was picking us back up at 5.30pm, but we did walk through the long grasses and low bushes of the sandy peninsular. There was no one else around and the sound of the crickets chirping was almost deafening. We sat on the beach for a while enjoying the cricket symphony before starting back over the perilous wet sands to Denman. It occurred to us that we were on an island, off an island, off a larger island (Vancouver Island) off the mainland. No wonder we didn’t see any other people. It isn’t the most accessible.

Another park that we visited during our stay was at the southern tip of the island, Boyle Point Provincial Park. I ended up hiking there a couple of times, firstly with Trav then with the other Helper that arrived in our second week, Kerstin, a lovely lady from Germany. At the southern tip of the island there is a view over a tiny craggy island, Chrome Island, which has a photogenic red and white lighthouse and station nestled into its rocky terrain.

Fillongley Park, located on the east coast of the island, is known for containing some of the largest remaining stands of Douglas Firs and Cedars in the region. Some of the trees are simply enormous, both in height and width. David took us there for a walk with the dogs through the old growth forest to the meadow where the original owner, George Beadnell, had his homestead before selling the land for $1 to the Provincial Government in 1953. The only sign that someone once lived there is an overgrown stone fountain and Mr Beadnell’s grave.

There are some great tidepools around Denman’s coast with lots of sea anemones and bright purple starfish. We collected mussels and oysters off the rocks on one of our walks and I made Moules Marinieres while David barbecued the oysters. I felt very capable, sourcing my own food, preparing it and making it into a great meal. I also baked bread, made homemade apple sauce, baked apples and apple and raspberry muffins with apples and raspberries I picked myself on the property. More so than ever, our stay has made me really want to have a vegetable garden and fruit trees when we get a house with a backyard. It is a great feeling to grow or forage for your own food.

Kaffe Klatsch is one of the only Cafes on the island, located in tiny Denman Village. We went there for a coffee on our first day with David and his daughter, then again after helping David’s friend Paul dig holes and plant trees on his property, he thanked us by buying us lunch. Such a lovely little place where a lot of the locals hang out. Fantastic coffee, chai lattes and the homemade roasted tomato soup was to die for. It tasted even better because we worked hard for it.

One sunny day we took out the canoe on the marsh behind David’s property. It was so still and quiet. We paddled through the water lilies and saw otters frolicking in the water and a beaver swimming around with his head barely above water. Such a peaceful and beautiful place to while away an afternoon.

When our two and a half weeks were up we were reluctant to leave. It had come to feel like home and we were very comfortable there with David and the dogs. We took the ferry over to Buckley Bay with David and he drove us to Courtenay, further up Vancouver Island where he has his Photography course every Tuesday and where we were taking local buses up to Campbell River to ferry to Quadra Island. David took us to a wonderful Bakery/Café/Chocolate Shop and treated us to coffee and chocolates. I had a fantastic White Chocolate and Pumpkin Spice latte. He dropped us off at the bus stop and we said our goodbyes. The Courtenay Museum was right next door to the bus stop and there was an hour wait for the bus so we went in to check it out and get out of the cold. It was really interesting and had great displays on the First Nations people from the area and also a lot of Palaeontology exhibits, including an entire skeleton of an Elasmosaur, the first recorded find in British Columbia.

It was a lovely ending to our enlightening stay on a friendly island where the local community is such a strong and positive force. We felt so welcome there and it only made me want to explore more of these pristine islands. There is something very special about this part of the world and the people that inhabit it and we feel so privileged to have been a part of it, if only for a short time. 

Saturday Market

View from the deck

Canoeing on the Marsh

North Denman


Chrome Island