Chris and I have lived in Kelowna for five weeks now. It feels longer because so much happened in September. I am constantly analyzing this most recent move and comparing Kelowna to Victoria and Manitoba. Even though I know it’s way too early to make judgments, I still want to share my initial impressions with you:
The Okanagan Valley is exceptionally beautiful. Chris and I have really enjoyed going on drives along Okanagan Lake and into the hills where there are many orchards and vineyards. The leaves are changing colours dramatically, and it’s becoming more beautiful every day.
No complaints about the weather: It has been mostly warm and sunny. There is hardly any wind.
The condo we are renting is in a holiday resort, so the amenities are really nice. Our suite is on the sun deck and meters from the pool (now closed) and hot tub. We are also thrilled to have a barbeque again and have been using it almost daily. The fitness room is next door and at least Chris is getting a lot of use out of it!
We both have jobs in fields we are trained and experienced in. Sometimes I miss how easy my clerical job was back in Victoria, but it feels good to be challenged again and using my professional skills.
My position is a really good opportunity for me. I miss being a school counsellor in Manitoba like crazy, but here I get to be a teacher again, albeit in a very alternative environment. The school just turned an unused classroom into a ‘Zen Den’ dedicated to mindfulness and self-regulation. Among other things, I get paid to teach yoga to small groups of students with anxiety. I love it!
Since moving to Kelowna, I started taking my first course toward my Master of Counselling Psychology and it’s going really well so far. Unlike massage therapy, this program feels like an excellent fit for me. I’m very comfortable in it and look forward to opening up my books every day.
There seems to be a lot of outdoorsy things to do here. We haven’t scratched the surface yet, and I look forward to more hiking, biking, and eventually snowboarding in the Okanagan Valley.
Oh yeah, and there’s a lot of great wine here! We popped into three wineries last Sunday and it made for a fun and tasty afternoon. It’s not a cheap hobby, so there’s little chance of us becoming winos. But if you come to visit, we’d love to take you on a winery tour, if that’s your thing!
My cons list is at least as long as the pros list (so far), so stay tuned and I’ll save it for another post.
Chris & I took a passenger ferry to Protection Island, a virtually car-free residential island in the Nanaimo Harbour…
Our most recent day outing was to Protection Island, which is just off the coast of Nanaimo. This was a spontaneous trip – neither Chris or I had heard of Protection Island until that same morning when we were looking for something different to do. I found it on Trip Advisor while looking for activities in Nanaimo. It was a fun and interesting discovery!
The drive from Victoria to Nanaimo took less than two hours. We parked the car at the Nanaimo Harbour and walked along the scenic Harbour Walkway to fill time before the ferry departure to Protection Island, which occurs every hour. The small ferry, dubbed the ‘Protection Connection’ was more like a water taxi. We shared the boat with a combination of tourists and Protection Island residents. The residents were identifiable by their pull carts filled with groceries and the punch cards they used to pay for their trip; we paid $9 for a return trip.
About ten minutes after departing Nanaimo Harbour, we pulled up to the Dingy-Dock Pub, the island’s only commercial business and the main draw for visitors. It was a gorgeous day and Chris and I sat out on the floating dingy-dock and ate crab cakes while watching the boats go buy and soaking up the warm sunshine. Our server came over on the same ferry as us, and we all agreed that she had a pretty sweet daily commute!
After our lunch, we set out on a walk around Protection Island. We soon realized that the island has a pirate theme going on. All the streets, which are gravel roads, have pirate themed names like Treasure Trail and Captain Cook Lane.
As I already mentioned, the pub is the island’s only business, but there are a couple hundred lovely homes on large wooded lots. Most of the houses seem fairly new and are built in West Coast style. I didn’t take many photos of the homes, but here is one humble cabin tucked in the woods.
Protection Island is also home to huge cedar and fir trees, arbutus and Gary oaks, abundant colourful flowers, and an idyllic sandstone coast line. And did I mention there are no cars?! The residents all seem to get around on golf carts. The complete lack of vehicle noise made the place very quiet, and the birdsong very apparent. We saw some residents working in their gardens, and one guy on a bike, but that was about it for people beyond the Dingy-Dock Pub.
We spent about an hour on Smugglers Beach. As has become the pattern, I explored the beach while Chris had a nap in the sun.
I suspect that most of Protection Island residents are retirees, but there are definitely families with children living here as well. The island has a small playground, a baseball field, a fire hall, a community hall, and a large community garden, with a sign inviting guests to help themselves to the produce laid out on a table and to leave some for others. A bulletin board at the pub (shown below) explained that the island has its own community association that deals with matters like garbage and recycling.
Most places we go, I end up fantasizing about what it would be like to live there, and Protection Island was no exception. An island with no vehicle ferry service means a lot of extra factors to consider – a big mind shift for those of us reliant on our cars. What a huge lifestyle change it would be! It would probably be a little too quiet for Chris and me to live on Protection Island at this point in our lives, but we will definitely go back to visit!
Thanks for reading! If I piqued your curiosity about Protection Island and would like to learn more, here are a couple sites you may be interested in:
When you were in middle school, did you ever get to design your own fantasy island? I remember this assignment where we drew maps of our island paradise, complete with free amusement parks, candy mountains, lazy rivers of chocolate…whatever forms of happiness we could dream up. Well, the tourist map for Salt Spring Island looks pretty much like how I envision my dream island!
Salt Spring has been on my travel bucket list since I first heard about this laidback isle of yogis, artists, and organic farmers many years ago. I was excited when Chris and I finally made it over there last week for a 2-night getaway.
The island exceeded our expectations and we were mostly very happy with how we spent our time. While there is certainly more to see and do than what we were able to experience on our first visit, I would whole-heartedly recommend an itinerary similar to ours when you visit the island yourself.
The 30-minute ferry ride to Salt Spring Island is a great sight-seeing experience in itself. We didn’t see any marine life, but the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia are really pretty.
After a quick lunch in Fulford Harbour, we drove south down a winding, tree-lined rural road to Ruckle Provincial Park. This park would be a lovely place to camp for a couple days. Instead, we did a 2-hour hike that took us over rocky shoreline, past many small coves with little beaches, through a grove of mossy Douglas Fir trees, and along green pastures. It felt like it was just us and the sheep in the whole park!
Salt Spring Island Cheese is a not-to-be-missed destination for anyone who loves cheese. (And who doesn’t love cheese?) You can learn how different varieties of goat cheese are made in a self-guided tour, which is kind of interesting, but the best part is the tasting room that has well over 20 different cheeses for sampling, along with crackers and many accompanying jellies and chutneys. It was so delicious and so hard to choose only a few to take with us.
At the nearby Garry Oaks Estate Winery, we sampled three whites and two reds and chatted with the host who was a former mortician from Saskatchewan turned Salt Spring Island resident and wine tasting host. She remarked that the customers she works with these days are much happier!
By 5:00 we were ready to check into our AirBnB. The Suite Retreat is a quaint guest cottage in the backyard of a family home. It was very comfortable for the two of us and we loved our happy hour with our wine and cheese on the cottage’s sunny little deck. It was not the first or last time on this trip that we talked about how quiet and peaceful it is on this island.
Moby’s Pub in Ganges was a completely unexpected delight. We thought we were stopping by for a pint and a bite to eat later in the evening, and we ended up joining in on a sing-along and playing instruments!
An older gentleman welcomed us and delivered the first lyrics of many songs to be sung throughout the evening. The middle-aged DJ encouraged the diverse crowd of young and old, local and visiting drinkers to sing along to classic songs spanning the decades. Then the instruments were passed out and Chris jammed on a tambourine while I got to shake a banana. (That’s right, I was given a banana shaker.) We chatted with a few of the other patrons, laughed a lot, and sang our hearts out.
The next morning we had a perfect breakfast on the patio at Barb’s Bakery & Bistro in Ganges. I want to rave about it but I have lots more to share with you, so I’ll just say this: You should definitely go to Barb’s for breakfast and you can’t go wrong ordering the Salish Skillet!
Driving to the summit of Mount Maxwell is worth the time and effort if you have a sturdy vehicle. The road up the mountain is steep and pot-holed, but the views from the top will take your breath away! A hawk circled right in front of me at eye level and we also saw a bald eagle on the hunt. We were struck by how quiet and still it was up there, and how cool it was that we had the area almost completely to ourselves.
On our last morning on Salt Spring, we took a drive to the north end of the island. Here we had another outdoor breakfast, this time at the tiny Fernwood Cafe with a lovely view of the bay. The owner agreed with me that he had found the ideal location for his cafe, and he and his staff seemed genuinely happy to serve us and just happy in general.
When we found the art gallery I wanted to see, tucked in on a home site in the woods, it was unfortunately closed. While sitting in our car looking at a map on this private property, we were approached by a smiling young man who explained that the artist wasn’t home, but offered to let us into her gallery so we could take a look around. The West Coast themed paintings are gorgeous and I’m so glad we loitered on the property long enough to be invited inside to see them! Check out the artist and her work: Gillian Gandossi
Other things you could do on Salt Spring Island that we didn’t get to this time around include camping, kayaking, paddle boarding, yoga, tour the plethora of artisans and art galleries, visit a Lavender farm, and of course, the infamous Salt Spring Island Farmer’s Market, if you happen to be there on a Saturday. We also recommend tastings at Salt Spring Wild Ciders and Salt Spring Island Ales; I didn’t describe them for length-sake and not because they weren’t good!
Know before you go:
You definitely need a vehicle on Salt Spring. The distances are too great to walk, and you may not feel safe cycling on the narrow, winding roads.
Don’t drive up Mount Tuom. Trust me, just don’t.
While there’s tons to do, Salt Spring still feels very rural. (We actually woke up to the sound of a rooster crowing!) At least when we went – a Wednesday to Friday in May – there were no crowds and many outdoor places were virtually free of people. The locals we interacted with seemed, without exception, genuinely warm and friendly. The nature is spectacular and even better because you don’t have to share it with throngs of tourists. It is a wonderful place to unwind and relax!
Long-time residents of Victoria describe this past winter as the worst one in 30 years and this spring as arriving about a month later than usual. Mostly, I have found the weather to be mild and pleasant, but even I am longing for more warmth and sunshine, especially when I see temperatures ‘back home’ in Manitoba reach the 20’s and we are still struggling to reach 14 degrees amidst all this cloud cover and drizzle.
No matter where I am, the best antidote to the weather dragging me down is always to go outside and do something active. Rather than wait for perfect conditions, just get out the door and you’ll probably find that it’s not that bad after all. As was the case this past weekend, when Chris and I embarked on the Pacific Marine Circle Route.
This 300 km driving route took us in a loop from Victoria, going up the west coast, across the island, and down the east coast to return home. You can do this drive all in one day, or spread it out over several days, as there is much to see and explore along the way!
Here are some of the stops we made along the route:
Whiffin Spit Park, Sooke
The ‘spit’ is a naturally-formed breakwater that protects the Sooke Basin from the open waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It’s nice to walk along and enjoy the lovely views on either side. There are many benches along the spit and a pebbly shoreline to explore.
2. French Beach
20 km of twists and turns past Sooke is French Beach Provincial Park. Unlike some of the other beaches in the area that involve a hike, this beach is close to a parking lot, making it an easy choice for families with small children or on days when you are more interested in lounging on the beach than hiking.
As you can see, French Beach is not a sandy beach, but the rocks didn’t stop Chris from taking a nap in the sun. Meanwhile, I checked out the interesting driftwood that had washed up all along the beach.
4. Jordan River
Jordan River appears to be just a few abandoned houses and a funky little bakery/cafe, at least from the main road, but the friendly girls working in the cafe claimed that their town has a few hundred residents. We recommend stopping at the cafe for an Americano and a ‘Bliss Ball’, and if you’re curious, maybe find out where all Jordan River’s residents live.
3. China Beach
I like China Beach even more than French Beach. The walk through the forest is enchanting and the beach has sand. It would be a great spot for a picnic and to spend an afternoon. We sipped our coffees from Jordan River while sitting on a log and watching the gentle waves lap the shore. Idyllic.
5. Botanical Beach
While walking down the gorgeous forest path to Botanical Beach, within the Juan De Fuca Provincial Park, another couple cautioned us that they had just seen a black bear! Since they said the bear was heading in a different direction than us, we continued on to the beach, but clapped our hands and made extra noise to be on the safe side.
I was prepared for another wide open ocean beach similar to the previous two, but Botanical Beach surprised us with its uniqueness. It is a protected cove with calmer water, and the beach surface is mostly flat rock with lots of little tide pools. The rock formations, drift wood, and little pools are fun to explore and the area feels very peaceful. Fortunately, no bears were sighted!
6. Renfrew Pub
All the walking we had done worked up our appetites. Fortunately, we found a pub in tiny Port Renfrew, right on Snuggery Cove. After a quick stroll down the dock to check out the view, we settled into a corner booth with a view of the hockey game and were treated to excellent food and a craft beer selection that earned Chris’s approval. The atmosphere was really laidback and the service was friendly. It was a perfect conclusion to our active day in nature.
Port Renfrew is only roughly the halfway point on the Pacific Marine Circle Route. At this point, the route turns inland and crosses over to the east side of Vancouver Island. The road used to be gravel and its condition was unpredictable, but now it is a smooth, paved ride, albeit very twisty and remote.
We spent the night in Lake Cowichan before heading south toward Victoria. There is lots to see and do in the Cowichan Valley, but since the next day was rainy, and we were a little worn out from the previous day’s activities, we mostly headed straight home.
We did try to hike to a waterfall, but we never found it. The mossy trees, fresh air, and exercise made it worth the effort.
There are also lots of other worthwhile stops between Victoria and Port Renfrew that we haven’t explored yet or that I didn’t mention. Chris and I have driven the circle route twice now, and I’m sure we will do it again! We recommend you try it yourself when you visit Vancouver Island!