Leaving, On A Seaplane
We’ve been trying to plan a cross-Canada road trip with our dogs and a trailer for some time now, and we thought this would be the year we could make it happen. Unfortunately those hopes were dashed when we discovered that our CR-V cannot tow even the smallest of campers! Something we never thought to investigate when we purchased it two years ago.
We settled on a plan for a shorter, easier trip to BC for a bit of R&R, followed by a ferry ride down to Seattle to visit Ali’s family. I’d never been to Vancouver Island before, and Ali and I were thrilled when a good friend from Toronto said she’d like to fly in and join us for a couple of days mid-trip. What better way to recharge than with mountain views, ocean air, and seeing new places with good friends?
As we started booking accommodations and doing other research, I found an option to avoid the long ferry trip to Seattle, and take a 45-minute ride in a seaplane from Victoria instead. I asked Ali whether she thought 2+ hours on a ferry or 45 minutes on a seaplane would be worse for her motion sickness, and she decided to bet on the seaplane. It was also surprisingly affordable, so we made the leap and booked it for the second leg!
The views from our flight into Victoria were spectacular, and as usual we shifted into high gear as soon as we landed. We picked up a rental car at the airport and headed straight for the ferry terminal to visit an old friend of Ali’s on Salt Spring Island. Little did we know, but we could see his property from the ferry as it pulled into Fulford Harbour!
We spent a few hours decompressing with our friends at their beautiful, secluded property overlooking the water. As an added bonus, we even had the chance to give some love to their dog, as we were so desperately missing our own girls!
We returned to Victoria to stay the night in a really sweet hotel called Abigail’s, which was just a 10-minute walk from the harbour. It was a great location, and included appetizer hour at night and a lovely breakfast in the morning (which could be eaten indoors or in the courtyard). The only negative was having to carry our suitcases up four flights of stairs, but we needed to get our steps in. 🙂
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for our visit. We enjoyed a walk around the harbour the next morning, and literally stopped to smell the roses before picking our friend Tory up from the airport, and heading north to Qualicum Beach.
There had been some discussion about staying in Tofino, but we decided it was too far a drive for such a short trip. We chose Qualicum Beach because it was a midpoint destination from Victoria, and because we found a great place available there on AirBnB. I know some clients and friends have hesitated using the service, but we had another great experience with the property we rented.
The town had a few options for stocking up on groceries and drinks, several restaurants within a short distance, and a lovely beach to walk on. Part of the appeal of using Air BnB is the ability to make at least some of your own meals and drinks, which we enjoyed while sitting out on that front deck!
On our first full day in Qualicum Beach, we took a drive to MacMillan Provincial Park and took an easy walk through Cathedral Grove – a stand of ancient giant Douglas fir trees.
We drove through some other small towns, and ended up in one called Coombs. Lunch at the Italian restaurant Cuckoo Trattoria was terrific, eaten while soaking up the sun in a courtyard with a fountain. Right beside the restaurant is the Coombs Old Country Market, which is a landmark known more for what’s on their roof than what’s in their store. They’ve got a natural turf roof that is home to several goats, which is how it gets its alternate name, “Goats On Roof”. They even offer a bio of the animals here!
Our second day’s adventures included a more in-depth hike through Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, where the trees weren’t quite as large, but the environment was far more rugged and serene.
We made an impromptu decision to go from the park to a nearby butterfly farm, which is an experience I’d highly recommend if you haven’t been to one! Beautiful flowers and butterflies surround you in a greenhouse, and they will often even land on you if you keep very still. I have to say though that the sign on the front door nearly kept me out!
Our last meal in Qualicum Beach was by far the best – a truly memorable experience at Bistro 694. Our server Nancy turned out to be one of the owners, along with her husband Tony, the chef. She had excellent wine recommendations, the food was superb, and it was yet another meal we could enjoy outdoors. It was a perfect end to this leg of our trip.
The next day, it was sadly time to return our friend to the Victoria airport. After saying our goodbyes, we decided to brave the high season crowds and head to Butchart Gardens. Their themed gardens and unimaginable variety of flowers really are a must-see!
After a couple of side trips down memory lane for Ali, including a visit to the nursing home where she used to visit her grandmother, we headed down to Cattle Point. It is so named because cattle used to be barged in for a nearby farm, and had to swim and wade to shore. It was a special spot for Ali’s grandmother, who was musically gifted and played the piano, so it was a fitting surprise to find a public piano sitting at Cattle Point! A minute after we arrived, a very accomplished pianist sat down to play, with us as his only audience. It was kind of a magical moment.
My surprise to Ali was that we were staying at a hotel overlooking Cattle Point that night, at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. The room and the views were incredible, and our last day in Victoria included breakfast on our balcony, followed by a long walk along the ocean.
We were both a bit nervous about the seaplane excursion, but it couldn’t have gone more smoothly. It was easy to get to the harbour airport, and the plane only holds 10 people so there wasn’t much of a crowd. Kenmore Air hires all retired commercial airline pilots, so we knew we were in experienced hands! The views of the ocean, mountains, and cities were breathtaking, and we were excited to hear the company also runs scenic tours of Mount St. Helens and other areas. That will definitely be on the list for next time!
The only nail-biting part of the trip was the landing on Lake Union. Seattle’s population has exploded over the last few years, which means there are more boaters, kayakers, fishermen etc. out on the lake. The pilots are often unable to find a clear path to land the plane, and some choice words were uttered by our pilot on the way in! Red buoys indicate the seaplane landing areas, but too many people don’t know the rules, and it’s too hard for the harbour police to patrol. We were apparently lucky to make it in on the first attempt!
Ali’s aunt and uncle have lived in Seattle for over 50 years, and although she visited them regularly as she was growing up, we’ve never gotten out there together until now. I can see why she loves it so much! We found ourselves saying every day that we could easily live there. The people we met were all incredibly friendly, including their wonderful neighbour John, a 96-year old former microbiology professor. Such a great character!
Ali’s mom stayed in Seattle the whole time we were in BC, so it was great to meet up with her and do some sightseeing together. We walked around the street market in Edmonds (a quaint small town right on the water of Puget Sound) our first day, and the next took in the Chihuly glass exhibit, the Olympic Sculpture Park, and the incredible city views from the top of the Space Needle!
That busy day was capped with a fantastic barbecue with all our west coast family, a few of whom I was meeting for the first time. It gets harder and harder to meet up as we all get older and move to different cities, but we do our best to stay in touch.
Our last day in Seattle was spent shopping at Pike Place Market, then doing a walking tour of underground Seattle. The city was rebuilt on top of itself after a massive fire in 1889, leaving actual streets and building facades buried underground. Our tour guide Lisa shared the fascinating history, and also pointed out that the unimpressive collections of little glass blocks you see on Seattle’s streets are actually very impressive skylights for the paths that run below.
It’s incredible what we managed to pack into a week and a half. Ali and I always have the best intentions to just sit and relax, but we obviously both suffer from severe cases of FOMO (fear of missing out).
Where to next?