Kicking back in the wild West

Keith &
Keith & Heather Nicol
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From rattlesnakes to rainforests, wildlife to wonderful weather, B.C. has a lot to offer visitors

An eagle (inset) flies over Courtney, B.C. The protected Cathedral Grove boasts 800-year-old trees. Photos by the authors/Special to The Telegram

Spring is typically a cruel time of year to live in this province. While the rest of the country has warming temperatures and blooming flowers, much of Newfoundland and Labrador is stuck in a no-mans land of rain, drizzle and fog, with temperatures in the single digits.

So, if youd rather be cycling through wine country or sea kayaking amid soaring eagles this time of year, then consider a B.C. vacation.

We recently returned from a 10-day trip that included rock climbing in Canadas most popular springtime destination and visiting towering rainforest trees that are some of the oldest and tallest in B.C.

We flew into Vancouver and drove for four hours into the sunny Okanagan Valley.

We chose the Golden Sands Motel in Penticton, B.C. as our base, since its close to Skaha Bluffs and the Kettle Valley Trail.

We are avid hikers, and have hiked all over western and central Newfoundland, but I had always wanted to try rock climbing.

Skaha Bluffs is a great place to learn. With bomb-proof weather, it is a sought-after location for climbers in Western Canada, particularly in spring when most other areas are too wet, snowy or cold. We had temperatures in the mid-20 C range, and since Penticton only gets about 25 cm of precipitation a year (most in fall and winter), you can be almost assured of clean, dry rock in May and June.

The Skaha Bluffs area is composed of gneiss a hard, metamorphic rock. Our guide, Lyle Thiede, told us its the abundance of small, sharp ledges that makes the Skaha Bluffs such a good spot for climbing.

We spent the day learning how to climb, belay and rappel down a 20-metre cliff. We were always top-roped, which meant that if we did fall off the rock, Lyle could easily hold us, so it is very safe.

I always enjoy learning something new while on vacation and found this day at Skaha Bluffs the most challenging new activity I had tried in ages. Also, I had never seen a rattlesnake before and we were fortunate to see three on our trip.

They will always give you advance warning when they are around, but watch where you put your feet, Lyle wisely told us.

The next day, we biked a portion of the Kettle Valley Trail, a former railway. We rented mountain bikes from Freedom The Bike Shop. With Okanagan Lake as a backdrop, this must be some of Canadas most scenic biking, with fruit trees in bloom and vineyards that seem to be springing up everywhere.

We then headed for Vancouver Island to see the rainforest and explore another side of super-natural B.C.

After taking the Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo ferry, we headed for Schooner Cove Resort on the Nanoose Peninsula. Schooner Cove Resort is part of the Fairwinds Resort development and it is a great place to unwind. We stayed in the waterfront resort hotel which enabled us to go sea kayaking in the morning and then play golf in the afternoon.

We paddled to the Ada Islands just offshore and were treated to loads of harbour seals and a vibrant intertidal life full of bright starfish and other marine creatures.

Our guide, Heather Hnatiak, with Alberni Outpost, made us a fine lunch of smoked salmon and bagels and on our return trip we saw more than a dozen seals slide into the water as we approached their haul-out rock.

In the afternoon, we played golf accompanied by wildlife deer, swans and Canada geese.

Using Schooner Cove Resort as a base the next day, we drove to Cathedral Grove to see its world-famous old-growth forest. Some trees are more than 800 years old, nine metres around and more than 76 metres high. Fortunately, theyve been protected from logging for years.

We lunched at Coombs popular Goats on the Roof Market. The lunch room specials are filling. Be sure to eat on the deck so you can see the goats having their lunch on the roof.

In the afternoon we visited the nearby Horne Lake Caves, which was recently voted the best outdoor nature site in B.C. by Attractions Canada (see related story, page C9). The two-hour tour was amazing, since the cave had numerous stalactites, soda straws, flow stones and other cave-deposit features. We were outfitted with helmets and headlamps and our guide Andrew Munoz was an enthusiastic advocate for the caves and their conservation.

Thinking we might have been missing out on some of the natural environment surrounding us, we contacted Coastal Revelations and Patrick Walshe gave us an informative tour of his favourite haunts the next day.

We explored tidal pools, saw a pod of porpoises chasing herring, and used his spotting scope to see sea lions.

We also saw loads of eagles, and at Englishman River park, Patrick spotted a solitary barred owl being harassed by a group of smaller birds. Like Andrew, our cave guide, Patrick has a strong conservation ethic and told us he works with volunteer groups to protect the regions sensitive landscapes.

The next day, we ended our visit to Vancouver Island with another sea kayak trip in nearby Courtney. From Comox Valley Kayaks we paddled blissfully along the protected shoreline. Seals popped their heads up and we were in eagle heaven as the birds cruised the shore for food.xSeveral swooped overhead and one even let us approach to within a few metres.

It was with reluctance that we finally left the richness of Vancouver Island and B.C. behind.

Contributors Keith and Heather Nicol are avid outdoor enthusiasts who live in Corner Brook. Keith can be reached by e-mail


Organizations: Schooner Cove Resort on the Nanoose Peninsula, Golden Sands Motel, Freedom The Bike Shop Fairwinds Resort Cathedral Grove

Geographic location: B.C., Western Canada, Vancouver Island Newfoundland and Labrador Penticton Okanagan Valley Okanagan Lake Horseshoe Bay Nanaimo Englishman River Courtney Corner Brook

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