Relaxing at our campsite by the river

Relaxing at our campsite by the river

We were treated to more of the spectacular mountain , lake, and forest scenery on our way back from to the East Coast of Vancouver Island. We had decided to go further North to Campbell River and plan a whale watching trip. We had two campsites in mind and ended up in Elk Falls Provincial Park, very close to the town, but in a beautiful area by the Quinsam River. We selected a beautiful, spacious site with the river running at the edge, bald eagles and herons cruising up and down the river, fishing, and settled down to a ‘chill-out’ day. That evening, several black bears cruised up the river and we were notified by the ranger that a Cougar had been seen in the campground (no pictures, I’m afraid). We walked the river every day in hopes of seeing more and Colin spent a lot of time trying to get a close-up Eagle shot; several times, just to tease him, they flew very quickly a foot or two over his head.

Elk Falls

In addition to being a picturesque waterfall, Elk Falls is the site of a brand new Hydro Project. This will replace the 68 year old hydro-electric generating station, by siting a new station completely underground to improve reliability, beautify the area, and enhance the salmon habitat. At the moment, water is taken from the John Hart Lake and fed through three massive pipes all the way down to the generating station. These three overground pipes will be replaced by an underground tunnel to the new underground station. Colin hiked to the falls, saw the brand new suspension bridge overlooking the falls, hiked to the bottom and back up the many steep trails and steps and, as usual, took too many pictures. The notice about warnings of water level rise reminded Colin of the time as a young boy, before he learned to swim, being stranded with his brother in the middle of a rushing river in Scotland when a the local Hydro-Electric plant released additional water.

The Tyee Club
Picture from Tyee Club website

Picture from Tyee Club website

We planned our whale watching trip while eating the “Best Fish and Chips in Canada” at Ziggers (recommended by a local) overlooking the Campbell River. Colin noticed some strange behavior of a group of 30 or so identical-looking boats moving back and forth in slow motion over what looked like a windward-leeward sailboat race. However, there were no sails, only oars. It reminded Colin of Friday night Laser racing in light winds at West River Sailing Club. It turned out to be the British Columbia Tyee Club, a very serious, exclusive and prestigious organization. Membership is limited to those who catch a Tyee (Chinook Salmon) over 30 lbs using approved rod and tackle, from an approved boat, in the river off the clubhouse during an approved event!

Whale Watching

We took a six hour whale watching trip out of Campbell River. The naturalist on board lowered our expectations of seeing Orcas as the salmons were not as plentiful this year and the ‘seal eating’ Orcas were very difficult to see, hunting by stealth. We did see a large  Humpback Whale off one of the many islands in the area. He was diving and breathing every four minutes so we spent some time in the area, wondering where he would show next. He obliged us by showing his tail several times (see movie below) and so was identified as Zorro, recognized by a “Z” shaped scar on the starboard side of his tail. Stellar sealionsWe spent the rest of trip touring around the Islands, enjoying the beauty of the strait on a perfect weather day. The cormorants, sealions and harbor seals were out in force, particularly at the Vivian Island Nature Preserve, and we recorded a movie of the wonderful noise of the sealions (below).

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P.S. The two last pictures in the gallery: this private home is seriously combating the rising electricity bills, generating their own power. What would our Saefern community Architecture Committee do if we came to them with such a plan?

Zorro the Humpback Whale

Sealions on Vivian Island Nature Preserve

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WipeoutHighway 4 leads right up to the First Street Dock in British Columbia’s Tofino, a hamlet where Clayoquot Sound meets the Pacific on Vancouver Island’s west coast. Getting that far takes a three hour drive into the mist, around hairpin curves, and through the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to the ocean. The payoff is more than worth the journey: remote surfing beaches, humpback and gray whales, black bears and bald eagles, and old-growth rain forests home to some trees thought to be one to two thousand years old. When an ancient red cedar falls, Nuu-chah-nulth master carvers ask the tree for permission before giving it new life.

Now that's something you don't see everyday. Surfboards Welcome!As far as the town of Tofino, you know you are in a surfing haven when the local buses advertise “Surfboards Welcome!” There was a gale forecast on Saturday and we were hoping to see some serious wave action, so we booked lunch at the famous Wikaninnish Inn overlooking the rocky Pacific coast. Unfortunately the wind direction changed, sheltering the Tofino beach somewhat. However, despite that, we saw 40 or so surfers riding the waves, many having wipeouts.

Meet Markus
While visiting an art gallery in town, showcasing art, by Canadian First Nation Artist Roy Henry Vickers, our attention was drawn to a man in a very unique outfit. He stated that it was the uniform of the German Master Craftsman carpenters, a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. Today, there are over 500 “journeymen” currently plying their trade far from home; and as they travel these craftsmen gain experience for their trade, a journey known as the “Walz”. Markus will work for food and bed, and if you want something special created for your home (if it’s wood, he can do it!), send him an email at: ( ).

The beautiful beach at Tofino was the location of the infamous meet-up of two brothers with an amazing amount of coincidences with Colin’s life. Read about it here.

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  • Tofino, BC

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    On MacKenzie Beach, Tofino, Vancouver Island

  • Coincidences

    Picture the scene. Yesterday’s rain is gone, it’s a beautiful morning. We are strolling along one of Tofino’s beautiful beaches at the Pacific Rim on Vancouver Island. Cheryl is chatting to an old surfer hippie about best places to live, mentions Arizona as she went to the U of A. His buddy arrives with two gallons of Bloody Mary’s, and he loses interest in us, but just then a couple walks by that he must have spoken to earlier. “They’re from Mesa Arizona” he says. Cheryl and the lady find that they were both born in the L.A. area, discuss briefly their time in Tucson, find they were there the same year (1970) but not in the same dorm. Colin picks up on a slight British accent of her husband, Paul, and (as usual) tries to guess where he is from. Finds out the following:

    • Colin and Paul were both born in Newcastle-on-Tyne
    • They both lived in Whitley Bay growing up
    • They both traveled on the train every day from Whitley Bay  to attend Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School (founded 1525) instead of attending school locally
    • They both played in all three of the school orchestras
    • They both became electrical engineers

    We walked back along the beach with our new friends, Catherine and Paul, and met Paul’s brother Mark (who also attended the same school) and his wife Denise who live in Dunfermline near Edinburgh, Scotland. Later that night we all met up for a few beers and shared many schoolday stories together. To cap it off we entertained our wives with a less than perfect rendition of our (ridiculous) school song (words and movie below).

    If we hadn’t met the old surfer… if Cheryl hadn’t mentioned Arizona… if I hadn’t picked up on his accent … we would have just strolled past each other without knowing the connection. How many near misses have we had without knowing? One of the greatest parts about traveling is not just the things you see, it’s the people you meet. We hope to drop in to Mesa, AZ on our way back through the southwest, later in the year.
    Written by J.B.Brodie, the song is no longer sung at the school
    I believe John Cleese and fellow humourists once performed it on BBC TV

    Horsley, a merchant venturer bold, Of good Northumbrian strain,
    Founded our rule and built our school, In bluff King Harry’s reign,
    Long shall his name old time defy, Like the castle grim that stands,
    Four-square to ev’ry wind that blows, In our stormy northern lands.
    Chorus: Fortiter defendit, fortiter defendit, fortiter defendit triumphans (triumphing by a brave defence)
    Fortiter defendit, fortiter defendit, fortiter defendit triumphans
    Many a name on the scroll of fame, Is the heritage of our land,
    Collingwood, Armstrong, Eldon and Bourne, Akenside, Stowell and Brand,
    Strong in their wisdom, wise in their strength, Wielders of sword and of pen,
    Far fared they forth from the school of the north, That mother and maker of men.
    God speed the school on the shores of the Tyne, That has stood for centuries four,
    Bright may the star of her glory shine, Bright as in days of yore,
    Pray, too, that we may worthy be, To tread where our fathers trod,
    Bravely to fight for truth and right, For Motherland, King and God.

    Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, school song, murdered by three ‘Old Novocastrians’.

  • Tofino, BC

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    On MacKenzie Beach, Tofino, Vancouver Island

  • Stamp Falls, upstreamWe decided to break our journey from Victoria to the mid-island Pacific Coast at Port Alberni. This city, although nearer the island’s East coast, is a deep water port sitting on the Alberni Inlet estuary’ which stretches all the way to the Pacific. Local industries of logging, papermaking and fishing are giving way to more tourist-driven activities. We were encouraged to visit Stamp Falls Provincial Park where we found the salmon making their annual run up to their spawning grounds upstream. Over 40 million fish, mainly salmon, traverse this area every year. Recognizing the importance of the salmon fishing industry, both commercial and recreational, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has built a ‘fish ladder’ route to make the passage upstream easier, particularly when water levels are low. The fish ladder resembles a zig-zag hiking trail up the side of a mountain, making the grade easier for the upstream battle. Waiting their turnWe were fascinated, not only by the quantity of fish making their way up the ladder, but by the scene below the falls, reminding us of the San Diego Freeway in LA. Some salmon did not find the ‘easy way’ up but were attempting the leap up the steepest area of the falls (see movie below).

    Nearby, we visited McLean Sawmill which operated commercially between 1926 to 1965. More recently, thanks to support from a local Paper-making Company, it has been put back into working order and is now the only steam driven mill in Canada, operating commercially two days a week providing cut boards for local use. The Mill was closed for the season when we visited so we gave ourselves a self-guided tour.

    Snack breakWe heard local rumors of bears having been spotted fishing in the river off Victoria Quay in the middle of town so we decided to dine in our van there in hopes of seeing one. As the light was failing, Cheryl (always the eagle-eyed one) spotted a Black Bear wandering up the opposite river bank pausing occasionally for a dip and a bite in the river. Thanks to our highly developed ‘point and shoot’ system (Cheryl points, I shoot) we managed to get a couple of decent photos.

    On our way from Port Alberni on the Pacific Rim Highway over the beautiful mountain pass to Ucluelet, we encountered an unusual phenomenon. Hundreds of padlocks and other items attached to a safety fence near one of the streams. These are apparently known as ‘Lovelocks’, left by couples expressing their undying devotion to each other by attaching an engraved padlock to bridge railings and throwing the key away. Apparently this practice began in Paris, lovers attaching locks to the Pont des Arts. However, when the magnitude of the practice reached the point where part of the bridge railing collapsed under the weight of 45 tons of locks, they were removed by the Paris Authorities. This barrier has a way to go before collapsing.

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    Salmon moving upstream and attempting the waterfall jump

  • Port Alberni, BC

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    Port Alberni, BC Canada