Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Vancouver Island Road Trip: Boat, Bus and Butchart

The Tuesday before last, my alarm clock went off at 4:45 a.m., but I heard it from the washroom where I was brushing my teeth and had been looking over routes and ferry schedules on my iPad for a quarter of an hour. Fenya had completed her Math 30 diploma exam for Math 30-1 just the day before, we had a room booked in Victoria that very evening, but I knew in my heart that construction, wildfires, traffic accidents, road rage and traveller's tummy could all conspire and result in our checking in after 11:00 or being stranded in Vancouver overnight.

With the eldest daughter going into grade twelve next year and likely needing to find work right away to fund her post-secondary pursuits, this is likely to be the last year we can travel together as a family with any sort of ease. And while an intensive road trip around Vancouver Island might not be everyone's dream holiday, it suited us just fine, but left little in the way of flexibility, and even less in terms of margin for error.

Thankfully, the girls are both excellent travellers and seasoned road trippers, the Flex is ideally set up for such a journey, and we had recently purchased a cooler that plugs into the aft power outlet which made it even better.  Having left Nitti with my Mum the day before, we pulled away from the curb at 5:45 a.m., bleary-eyed but excited.

Many were the summers that saw my sister and I in the back seat of whatever family truckster Dad had invested in at the time (Travelall, Town & Country station wagon, Beauvista van, Suburban) as we made our way to southern Manitoba to visit Dad's family and see the old homestead, and although I have experimented with alternatives, I take more than a page or two from their book when it comes to effective road tripping.

First of all, we left without breakfast.  We had practically exhausted all the milk in the house and weren't really interested in dealing with any dishes.  Often we will grab some drive-thru on the way out of town, but frankly, it didn't feel like all that long since we'd had supper, and we were nowhere near hungry yet. 

I had put all 13 episodes of the BBC radio play of The Lord of the Rings on 3 mp3 cds, and we had listened to nearly two of them before we ended up pulling over in Hinton to gas up, use the facilities, and grab a light breakfast and some greatly appreciated coffee from Tim Hortons. We were back on the road in a manner of minutes.

We still had our annual Parks Canada pass from visiting Banff earlier in the year, and were able to pass by the Jasper gates quickly enough, and traffic was relatively light from there to Valemount, where Audrey took the wheel for a while.  With noon approaching, I got the girls to hand out the sandwiches I had prepared the night before, with cold bottles of water to drink.  Sure, we could have picked up some burgers at a drive thru in Kamloops, but something slightly lighter and non-fried was less likely to leave us loagy in the saddle, another lesson cribbed from Mum and Dad's Manitoba pilgrimages.

Now, my ladies are not the biggest fans of sandwiches, while I pride myself on them, and I took it as a challenge to make them as palatable to them as I could, so I waited gingerly to see if my smoked turkey, prosciutto and gouda on rye with lime-jalapeno aioli, lettuce, tomato and avocado (with red onion for me) would pass muster.  Thankfully, everyone seemed to enjoy them, so we were all spared some embarrassing and truculent pouting on my part.

Gassing up again in Kamloops, we prepared for the big haul down the Coquihalla to Vancouver and the Tsawassen Ferry Terminal.  Despite having driven it many times, I always forget that the speed limit on this motorway is an astonishing 120 km/h, and with 2-3 lanes throughout its length, the cruise control can be left on for almost the entirety of that leg.  

With a couple more pit stops along the way, and aided by the hour gained when we changed time zones, we very nearly made it onto the 5:00 crossing from Tsawassen, missing it by only 10 minutes. We instead settled on being nearly first in line for the 6:00 sailing, having driven over 1100 km in 12 hours and 15 minutes.  Not bad for a family of four in a glorified station wagon!

We beat most of the lineup to the cafeteria on board the Coastal Celebration, ate supper, then wandered about on the deck in the warm summer air.  A ferry is as utilitarian a vessel as one can imagine, but for us land-locked Albertans, it still carries as much of our imaginations as it does our vehicle and belongings, and it also gave Glory a chance to try out the SLR she bought back in May.

Boarding early meant disembarking early, so we got a head start on the rest of the inbound traffic to Victoria, and were safely esconced in our room at the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort (thanks Air Miles!) by 8:30, giving us all time for a quick swim before bed.

The next day we walked across the Johnstone Street bridge (a cantilevered drawbridge sadly being replaced) and got some pastries and coffee at a bakery /cafe called Willies, which I highly recommend.  

 After wandering about and looking in closed shop windows for a bit, we boarded a double-decker bus tour of British Columbia's capital city.  This was not only a great way to see the sights and get our bearings, but a welcome opportunity to let someone else do the driving for a while.

After taking the water-taxi back to downtown from Fisherman's Wharf, Audrey and Fenya did a bit more shopping while Glory and I headed back to the hotel.

When we regrouped, it was back behind the wheel for me so we could go to the famed Butchart Gardens (all the good photos are Glory's).

 The park is a beautiful space that truly lives up to both its immense reputation and century of history.

The girls were both full of helpful suggestions for creative and 'cute' photos as well...

And I am always on the lookout for a place to get a shot of all of us together, whether by racing back into frame against the camera's timer:

Or trying to cram us all into a reflection:

I wouldn't call myself a fan of flowers and the horticultural arts, per se, but I do appreciate them, and more than that, the artful way everything is presented, from the overwhelming colour of the blossoms, to the quiet serenity of the Japanese garden, there is something for just about everyone here.

We stayed well past nightfall, giving Glory a chance to try some slow shutter-speed night photography, which I think turned out magnificently.

I visited Butchart as a child of 8 or 10, and my most distinct memory is touching the nose of a bronze boar statue, so I was glad the girls and I could do so as well.

(Sorry, couldn't help myself.)

All in all, our first couple of days of vacation had gone swimmingly; but how long could our luck hold out?


  1. If you have time, take the ghost tour in Victoria. James and I did and it's a great history lesson with a few spooky stops. Plus there was an ice cream shop by the Empress which was lovely.

    1. Great idea, and we are definitely going back at some point!