Vancouver Island: BC’s island gem sparkles

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By Karlie Marrazzo

If you look up the definition of ‘travel bug’ in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of my face smiling back at you, guaranteed. Whether I’m flying halfway across the world or driving to a small town one hour away, send me on a trip and I’m the happiest I can be. This past August long weekend, I had not one but two incredible reasons to visit somewhere new – my dad’s 65th birthday and the wedding of my best friend from junior high whom I’ve known for over 20 years.The wedding was being held in the city of Parksville on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, a place I hadn’t even heard of before the invite came in the mail. I had only been to the Island’s capital, Victoria, once before nine years prior, so I was very stoked to explore a spectacular, renowned part of my country that I hadn’t yet seen.

My dad and I departed for Victoria on a sunny Friday afternoon. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a direct flight from Edmonton, so we had a relatively short layover in Vancouver; relative in that our two-hour layover was longer than both of our flights combined. The flight from Vancouver to Victoria was officially the shortest flight I have ever taken – 15 minutes from gate to gate and only 11 minutes in the air to travel less than 100km. I couldn’t help but giggle as the plane descended into the tiny Victoria International Airport moments after we took off. We stepped onto the tarmac and into the fresh British Columbia air, the sun shining somehow brighter in the sky than it was at home. The sun seemed a more vibrant blue, the air fresh and clean, the flowers a brighter shade of pink and red. We noticed the cheerful, old-school crossing guards outside of the airport, chatting and joking with passengers just arrived while gently waving cars along. Visions of moving to this happy, peaceful land (of the “newlywed and nearly dead,” as Victoria is jokingly called) already danced through our minds and we hadn’t yet left the airport grounds.

We picked up our rental car (“No smoking pot in the rental,” the car rental agent warned us. Only in BC) and made the two-hour drive north to Parksville. Along the way we passed Duncan and Nanaimo, only 30 minutes from Parksville and home of it’s very own airport, making me realize that there were more options for flying into the Island aside from the Victoria airport. Lesson learned for the next trip out there. Highway 1 passed enticingly close to the Strait of Georgia, but trees between the highway and the water prevented us from taking in any ocean views. I was close to nodding off by the time we reached the Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort at 9pm. I had booked a cottage suite, which was much bigger than I expected it to be with a full living room and kitchen, plus a bedroom with a king sized bed, all resplendent in classic log cabin wood from floor to ceiling. I promptly passed out, anticipating all the rest I would need for the wedding the next day.

As the name suggests, the Tigh-Na-Mara is located at the seaside, backing directly onto Rathtrevor Beach and the Strait of Georgia. With a couple of hours to kill that Saturday morning before the wedding, my dad and I made the 5-minute walk from our room down to the beach. The grey sand was hard packed and strung with wisps of seaweed and washed up logs, perfect for perching on. The tide was out, providing the perfect opportunity for beach combers to explore and find their own treasures from the bottom of the sea. My dad and I sat on a log, collected seashells and simply savoured the sea air and scenery for an hour before getting ready for the wedding.

I’m a true hopeless romantic and a huge sucker for weddings. My dad had a long career as a wedding photographer, and I attended dozens of weddings with him as his second shooter. I can assure you that I shed a tear at every single one of those beautiful strangers’ special days. Without a doubt, Danielle and Stephan’s wedding was the best, most gorgeous wedding I have ever attended. As soon as I got out of the shuttle at the wedding grounds I was in awe. It was held in an impressive private backyard that was adorned with a clear roofed tent, hardwood dance floor, separate champagne area and absolutely perfect decorations and personal touches throughout. Not to mention the impeccable garden, weather and grounds themselves. I made sure to get a seat in the second row as I didn’t want to miss a moment of one of my oldest and dearest friends’ wedding ceremony. Needless to say, I shed more than a few tears as Danielle and Stephan exchanged their vows on a picture perfect afternoon. The rest of the evening was just as perfect, with an incredible surf and turf meal, catching up with old friends and creating new memories with new ones, and shutting down the dance floor at the end of the night.

Slumber was short yet sweet that night. Sunday morning was another perfect specimen of a day – an idyllic temperature in the low-20s that steadily warmed up by the hour, bright blue sky and that calm, small town island vibe permeating the air. We joined E and her daughters from the wedding for a delectable breakfast at Lefty’s, where I devoured a bacon and eggwich bagel accented with a delish chipotle sauce. Since Sunday was our only full day to explore the Island, we hit the road and did just that. First stop: Coombs, a tiny town famous for goats on a roof. That’s right, goats on a grassy roof. If you know me at all, you know I’m a sucker for goats AND roadside attractions, so Coombs was a must-stop for me. Being the Sunday of a long weekend, however, the tiny town was overrun with tourists. Every parking lot was full and those who couldn’t find a spot just pulled over on the side of the highway. The goats must have been too hot when we arrived at high noon, because there were only two of them on the roof of the Old Country Market. We craned our necks, then crossed back over the highway to try to get a better view of them, but my visions of hoards of goats bleating down at me from the roof were quickly dashed. Alas, it was better to see two rooftop goats than none at all.

Ten minutes later we were in Qualicum Beach, another popular beach on the Island adjacent to a town of the same name. A long promenade runs parallel to the thin strip of beach opening up onto wide skies and open waters. We met up with E and the girls again and settled onto the beach, which was quite rocky in that spot rather than sandy like I was hoping for, although it is sandy elsewhere down the beach. The girls frolicked in the water while we sat, chatting and enjoying the heat… temporarily. The discovery of a recently deceased crab led to an elaborate and thoughtful crab funeral and burial, at which I was asked by E’s youngest to speak a few words. Adventures with a unicorn floaty and trying to feed the dead crab to some seagulls ensued. I don’t often spend time with children as I don’t have many around me in my life, and it was a pure delight to hang out with such imaginative, inquisitive little human beings.

Our next destination was “Lighthouse Country,”a deceptively named area 20km north of Qualicum Beach. I knew nothing about it before that day, only learning about it over breakfast from a tourism pamphlet. Once my dad and I realized there were no lighthouses to be seen, we decided to find a place to eat fish and chips. What better place to do it than in a real life working fishing village on the coast of British Columbia? We found a restaurant called Ship & Shore in a small community called Deep Bay, settled into the cozy patio and tucked in to out-of-this-world soft, fresh and flaky halibut accompanied by perfectly cooked English chips, made all the more delectable with a splash of malt vinegar. Happy and full after a delicious meal, we slowly strolled the wooden walkways through the working marina, my dad admiring the boats while I simply enjoyed the peace of the moment. I rounded out my day with one final relax session on Rathtrevor Beach, strolling out as far as the low tide would allow me, noticing the patterns of the snail tracks in the wet sand as it squished through my toes.

Without fail, the last day of vacation always comes too quickly. Monday morning arrived, we packed our bags and said so long to Parksville. I was enchanted with the glimpse I got of Vancouver Island and was left longing to see so much more of it. Our flight out of Victoria wasn’t until 3:30pm but we headed down early for three very important reasons: to visit with my oldest friend of all (kindergarten, baby!), to hit up one of my favourite bookstores, Russell Books, and to eat at Red Fish Blue Fish, a Victoria institution.

With tens of thousand of new and used books housed over three glorious floors, Russell Books is heaven on earth for me. I could spend days on end there browsing the stacks – bookstores are my true happy place. However, I was on a strict time limit, but I still came away with a handful of incredible astrology and travel books. We met up with Nancy right around noon and thought we would have lots of time to grab lunch at Red Fish Blue Fish, an excellent waterfront pseudo-food truck, and still have time to spend in the heart of Victoria. As soon as I saw the lineup that was at least 30 people deep, that dream was dashed. We spent an hour waiting in line and ended up having to eat our food in the car while we drove to the airport, so let this be a warning to you if you think you can grab a quick lunch at RFBF. You can’t.

I left Vancouver Island with a new appreciation for a spectacular area of my country, new friends and beautiful memories, with many future visits to look forward to. Thank you for introducing me to the Island Danielle and Stephan!

Victoria waterfront
Miss Wanderlust at Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville, BC
Deep Bay marina

6 thoughts on “Vancouver Island: BC’s island gem sparkles”

  1. We loved spending time with you on the Island!!! Kacey was very appreciative of your contribution to the crab funeral . Love reading your blog ! Keep up the great writing! Love, E

  2. Your pictures brought back happy memories of the two trips my Mom and I made to Vancouver Island years ago! You need to go back and explore the rest of the island someday. It’s so beautiful!

  3. Love the photos. Brings back memories from my trip to the island a few years ago, where I was tracing down some family roots. really a unique part of the world.

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