A remote Pacific island shared with wolves, a forested hillside above a mountain-rimmed lake, a fun-in-the-sun campground with a water slide and mini-golf—three base-glamps from which to explore three very different areas of Vancouver Island. To help keep us young at heart, we were joined on this sixteen-day glamping adventure by our youngest granddaughters Robin and Scarlett, ages nine and ten. Glamping? That’s shorthand for glamorous camping, the fancy form of roughing it.
Getting there is half the fun
Spring Island is so remote that it took three days to get there, but we had some adventures along the way. The first step was to greet Roblett (that’s the short form of Robin + Scarlett) at Vancouver International Airport after their three-hour UM (Unaccompanied Minor) flight from Los Angeles.
Then it was on to the Nanaimo-bound Queen of Alberni for a two-hour ferry ride, during which Grandpa demonstrated how to fill small-size cups with large-size amounts of soft ice cream.
Day two began with a successful search for sand dollars at Rathtrevor Beach (Tip: a low, ebbing tide is best), after which we began our drive to Gold River, with a huckleberry-picking stop at Lady Falls along the way. For girls who live in Los Angeles, Gold River is a really small town. Cell phones don’t work here, there is only one restaurant, and deer stroll the streets.
“It’s a baby boat; will it sink?” worried Robin, when she first saw the MV Uchuck III at 6:45 a.m. on travel-day three. Don’t worry, Robin! The Uchuck is small, old (built in 1942), and noisy, but it is a strong working boat, and it has been carrying passengers and freight along this very same route for more than fifty years. Throughout the day we watched as groceries, fish food, and fuel were delivered to logging camps, fish farms, and remote villages along the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Two sea otters, a black bear on a beach, bald eagles, and jellyfish were spotted during our ten-hour trip on the Uchuck. A big group of kayaks were lowered over the side, and Robin had some questions about kayaking: Will there be sharks? Are there fish that bite? What if I can’t get my spray skirt off? Will the water be cold?
Kyuquot is the village where the Uchuck dropped us at 5 p.m. If Gold River is small, Kyuquot is even smaller and definitely off the beaten track. It has no streets or roads; people use boats and water taxis to go to school, the post office, or the Red Cross outpost.
The Spring Island Sea Otters
On Spring Island, a twenty-minute water taxi ride from Kyuquot, we formed a group of six guests and three guides, and we called ourselves the Sea Otters. For one week we explored the islets, inlets, and old-growth rainforest of remote Kyuquot Sound, by sea kayak, on foot, and on a last-day float plane ride.
The people. Roblett grew very attached to our Sea Otter group, our camp cook, and seven-year-old camp resident Morgan.
Saying farewell was emotional, and the girls have asked us to include and label a photo of each of the Sea Otters in their photobooks because they don’t want to forget them—ever.
The beach fort. For the girls, building the beach fort was a stand-out activity, because it was creative and a group effort. Sure, we could have continued to paddle the planned route north through big ocean swells, but then we would have missed this great Beach Day.
The food. “This cake is good, but Jane’s brownies were better.” Every time the dinner bell rang at our subsequent stops, the girls made a comment along these lines. We felt a bit sorry for the other chefs because Jane’s cooking was a hard act to follow.
The sea otters. Wolves, sea stars, sculpins, bald eagles, and anemones are memorable, but the sea otters were the stars of the show. Perhaps this is because sea otters hang out in groups, which is something all young girls like to do.
For more information about the Seven-Day West Coast Adventure, contact West Coast Expeditions.
Challenge by Choice
Strathcona Park Lodge is an outdoor playground where Robin and Scarlett strapped on climbing harnesses, learned to paddle a canoe, and built an almost-waterproof shelter. This time we stayed in a really old log cabin with a loft that is perfect for people who aren’t too tall.
Ryan was our guide, and he was committed to principles such as Challenge by Choice, which means that even trying an activity is considered a success.
From a menu of activities, Robin and Scarlett chose the following for our four days of Adventure Unlimited: zip line, high ropes course, rock climbing/rappel, canoe skills, canoe day-trip, tree climb, survival skills, and nature walk. Grasping at ropes, crossing a wobbly bridge, walking a narrow wire, climbing a vertical cliff then stepping backward on rappel, climbing up a 75-foot tree in three minutes—Robin rocked at all these height-related challenges. Scarlett, height-shy because she has broken so many bones, was brave to try each activity. Grandpa managed the ropes course (not always elegantly) and rappel; Grandma, knowing her limits, sat out.
The water-based activities were more in our comfort zones. Ryan taught the girls basic canoe strokes, and the following day we all headed down-lake on a day trip. The instructional evening finished with total fun—down the kayak slide, three trips each: forward without splash, forward with splash, and backward with splash. On her last slide, Scarlett swamped the kayak (that means it filled up with water), so she decided to go for a swim. “Can I do a wet exit?” asked Robin, then she did, laughing. Can you believe it? Just one week ago, this girl was worried about tipping over!
For more information, check out the Strathcona Park Lodge website.
Adventures with Aunt Kirsten
Our daughter Kirsten and her family joined us at Qualicum Beach for five days of caving, mini-golf, bumper cars, and picnics. A family-oriented, less-than-glamorous resort was our base-camp. Grandma and Grandpa slept in their tent in the campground, and the rest of the group shared a three-bedroom cabin next to the Little Qualicum River.
After Spring Island and Strathcona Park Lodge, Qualicum Beach seems like a big city. Cell phones work here, and there are lots of stands selling soft ice cream, with interesting flavours such as apple pie and tutti frutti. Even though it’s a city, there are deer, who walk along the road and munch grass casually on people’s front lawns.
Grandma and Aunt Kirsten don’t like caves, so they sat in the sun by Horne Lake while everyone else went on the three-hour Ice Age Adventure cave tour.
Three different caves were visited, with crystals, glow-in-the-dark stones, rock scrambling, an underground slide, a ladder to an underground waterfall, and a chance to squeeze through a tight space called the Cheese Grater. At one point everyone turned off their headlamps to see what complete darkness is like.
The first tears of the trip were shed when the airline agent took Robin and Scarlett through the security door, but those tears were a good sign. Tears mean we had a good time together, we love each other, and let’s do this again soon. We probably won’t be Sea Otters next time, because sea otters only live in a few places, but maybe we can be River Otters or Beavers.
I would have named the boat Upchuck!
Those in the know do call it the Upchuck, through personal experience most likely.
Loved it, Cathy
Thanks, so did we!
What a fantastic trip to do with Grandchildren. I have been to Kuyoquot several times. It is an interesting community with the Indian Village on one side and the non-indian on the other side of the inlet. There is also what used to be called a Red Cross outpost health clinic with a Nurse Practitioner which was an interesting place to visit if one was in the health business. A friend of mine was once a radio operator on Spring Island and would regularly radio on weather reports. I believe there is very little left of the Federal radio station which was there now. There used to be a huge raft of Sea Otters off Kuyoquot but the last two times I visited they had moved somewhere else. Very interesting animal and their increasing populations a conservation success story.
We met the current Nurse Practitioner at the Kyuquot wharf. She was excitedly following the Uchuck into the harbour in her aluminum skiff. Her sister from Switzerland was aboard and they hadn’t seen each other in several years.
The abandoned radio outpost was only a concrete platform which now serves as a makeshift basketball court. The station served as a LORAN beacon. Remember the good old days before GPS?
Happy to tell you the sea otter raft is still there and thriving.
Your grandchildren are so lucky to have you show them these experiences!
We feel lucky to be able to (almost) keep up with them.
Thanks for sharing such a heart-warming experience. I wish my grandparent had been like the two of you! You have very fortunate grandchildren.
Thanks Linda. They help keep us young, too. Hope you’re keeping active after the cruise. Such a shock to come back to having to look after one’s self.