We had finished nearly all the preparations for the big trip. Locking and pinning the coupler to the hitch ball, tensioning the spring bars on the load leveler, and adjusting our dashmounted electronic brake controller, we were ready to go.

Crossing the U.S./Canadian border, we pointed our Dodge Ram 2500 and 22-foot Airstream International travel trailer to a port just south of the city of Vancouver where we would board a ferry and cross the Strait of Georgia. Offloading 40 minutes later, what lay in front of us was Vancouver Island, a 300-mile-long, 100-mile-wide chunk of ready-to-be-explored real estate. Its mild climate (more northern Mediterranean than anything else) makes it a destination that can be enjoyed year 'round.

Tofino
Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Tofino is a seaport where people come to celebrate bad weather (yes, that's right) four months out of the year. This is the westernmost point, where winter storm systems that sweep across North America first make land. Watching these storms come in from the Gulf of Alaska is a popular pastime; however, between April and November, Tofino is an RVers' playground.


For those adventurous souls, pods of orcas and gray whales congregate to feed and play at the tip of this wispy strand of sand and rock. Deep-sea and freshwater fishing also are popular, but the idea of riding in a handcrafted dugout canoe looked interesting. We signed up for Tla-ook Cultural Adventures, offered only by the First Nations People, and guides Tsimka and Gisele led us out through the islands that dot the inlet. They told us legends and chanted songs in their native tongue (verbal histories that have been handed down since their ancestors first crossed the Bering Strait when it was a land bridge).

Tofino is known for its excellent seafood, with restaurants and bistros routinely featuring the catch of the day. Had we wanted to explore the miles of trails that lace this coastal wilderness, we could've rented mountain bikes. Surfboards also are available for some of the best surfing around.

The Old Country Market in Coombs is a must-see. The roof is covered with meadow grass grazed on by goats. You'll find fresh produce, a bakery, and a deli, and stacks of treats line the store. We ordered a la carte from the deli and highly recommend the Sockeye salmon (right out of the market's own smokehouse), a freshly baked roll, and a big scoop of potato salad.


Strathcona Park Lodge
Nestled on the shore of Upper Campbell Lake, just west of the town of Campbell River on Highway 28, is a vacation stop that allows for strolling though a meadow, watching a sunset, or enjoying gourmet food at the Strathcona Park Lodge. This unique adventure haven caters to the total novice and the overachiever alike. Activities include rockclimbing, repelling, and ziplining. In addition, the lodge offers adventure sampler packages that can include kayaking, canoeing, fishing, naturalist walks, whale and wildlife viewing, wildlife photography, sailing, caving, and learning survival skills.


Port McNeil and Aler Bay
Gas up in Campbell River-it's 140 miles north on Highway 19 to Port McNeill and there aren't any services in between. Blanketed by virgin timber, isolated farms, and magnificent vistas, Port McNeill is the jumping-off point to Alert Bay, an island in the strait that separates Vancouver Island from mainland British Columbia.

A 30-minute ferry ride will take you to Alert Bay and excellent campgrounds. Parking along the harbor in Port McNeill and walking on board, you'll go through a small fishing village with shops and restaurants and out to U'mista Cultural Centre.

Today, U'mista Cultural Centre houses a collection of carved masks, silkscreen prints, totem poles, jewelry, and artifacts that depict the history of the potlatch. Here you can watch the local carvers create totem poles, masks, and carvings.

A Village of Murals
Drive an hour north of Victoria on Highway 1 and turn right on Henry Road (Highway 1A), and you'll be swept down into the center of town where old brick buildings are dressed with murals depicting the native, pioneer, fishing, lumber, and shipping history of the area. There are 37 murals and 13 sculptures that tell the story of Vancouver Island's past.

Scattered among the murals that line the streets of Old Town Chemainus are eateries, shops, espresso bars, and galleries that feature native and local artwork. Take the time to tour Cascadia Sawmill, a state-of-the-art lumber mill that shows how modern technology and responsible forestry is guaranteeing the future of tomorrow's timber industry. A pleasant surprise is that there's plenty of parking in town, even for our Ram and Airstream.

Victoria
Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, is a classy, charming city. It's compact, foot friendly, visually pleasing, and full of sights that'll make anyone want to come back. We found it was easiest to unhitch the Airstream at the RV campground where we were staying and drive the truck downtown.

Nestled around the Inner Harbour, Victoria's link with the sea is underscored by dozens of slips occupied by sailing ships and private yachts. Immediately across from the Inner Harbor is the Fairmont Empress Hotel where high tea is served (reservations required). This tradition began during the reign of Queen Victoria who suffered from what is now known as low blood sugar. She remedied the condition by enjoying tea, scones, berries and cream, and sandwiches every afternoon, and today no one does afternoon tea better than the Empress Hotel.

The Royal BC Museum across the street is well worth a stroll through its multistory exhibits. Fishing and whale-watching excursions depart regularly from the Inner Harbor. Victoria has a wide variety of casual and fine dining eateries, espresso bars, bakeries, and microbreweries. Hugo's, a block north of the Empress Hotel, is a microbrewery that makes one of the best hefeweizens (wheat beer) you'll ever taste. In front of the Empress you can catch a double-decker bus and in minutes be at Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens just north of the town on Highway 17. Both sites have ample RV parking as well, making it easy to drive there in your rig.

Much of the island is quite accommodating to RVers but it's always a good idea to scout out your route to make sure all your destinations are accessible. Happy exploring.



Our Travel Trailer
The towing characteristics and road manners of the Airstream International are impressive. Measuring 22 feet, 4 inches long, this travel trailer is a pleasure to tow and to live in. Minus any signs of fishtailing or trailer sway, our unit tracked nicely behind the Dodge Ram on the Interstate, in urban settings, and along mountain and country roads.

Airstream International trailers are four-season units that are built to be used and enjoyed year 'round. They're well insulated, come with heated holding tanks, a 13.5-million-BTU roof air-conditioner, and a forced-air furnace. Holding-tank capacities are sufficient and can support self-contained RV camping for several days. L.P. is the fuel source for the furnace, three-burner cooktop, two-way refrigerator/freezer, and electric ignition water heater. Its 30-amp shore power is standard while the deep-cycle house batteries make standalone RV camping possible.

Other appointments include a sofa/sleeper, galley sink, microwave oven, wardrobe, full-size bed, storage cabinets, pantry, and an LCD television with DVD player. Airstreams come prewired for satellite and an optional solar package. Other options include Sirius Satellite Radio and an external speaker jack.

Equipped with electric brakes, the 5600-pound GVWR on our unit yielded a net cargo-carrying capacity of 1495 pounds. For more, contact Airstream, Inc. at 877/596-6111; www.airstream.com.-

Sources

Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C.
877/266-2822

www.aboriginalbc.com



Butchart Gardens
866/652-4422

www.butchartgardens.com



Chemainus Visitor Information Center
250/246-3944

www.muraltown.com
www.chemainus.bc.ca



Fairmont Empress Hotel
250/384-8111

www.fairmont.com/empres



Royal BC Museum
888/447-7977

www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca



Strathcona Park Lodge
250/286-3122

www.strathcona.bc.ca



Tla-ook Cultural Adventures
877/942-2663

www.tlaook.com



Tourism British Columbia
800/435-5622

www.hellobc.com



Tourism Vancouver Island
888/655-3483

www.vancouverisland.travel



Tourism Victoria
800/663-3883

www.tourismvictoria.com



U'mista Cultural Centre
800/690-8222

www.umista.org



Victoria Butterfly Gardens
877/722-0272

www.butterflygardens.com



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