Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island

Between the city of Parksville and Port Alberni on Vancouver Island is a little oasis of calm and peace. It’s a stand of trees, very old trees, mostly Douglas Fir with Red Cedar as well. The oldest standing tree is about 800 years old and stands over 250 feet tall, taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa apparently.

Recently we visited Vancouver Island. Most of the few days we were there were spent in the capital city of Victoria with relatives, doing a bit of driving around and hanging out. We rented a car and drove “up island” to see some friends in Parksville and before returning the next day, I really wanted to see Cathedral Grove. It was a long-standing destination on my list and it’s only about a half hour drive from Parksville on an inland road from the coast.

The weather is overcast with rain threatening but we only got a little heavy mist. There had been a tiny dusting of snow and in the forest there was still a little on the ground, enough to make the path slippery so we trod carefully. The light was low due to the cloud cover. No sunlight streaming through the branches picturesquely. The air was damp and cold. The breeze rustled the leaves. It was completely quiet aside from an occasional car that drove by. The grove is part of the MacMillan Provincial Park and its near the road. In November, there were few tourists besides us three. I hate to use a cliche word but it did feel a bit magical. Just when you think Nature can’t throw one more jaw dropping sight at you, in comes a curve ball. Here is a bit of video I took and a few photos.

The drive to Parksville is only about 2 hours from Victoria. You could easily visit Cathedral Grove in a day. You also drive past Goldstream where, in early November or very late October, the salmon return to spawn and you can watch them flipping through the water trying to get upstream. We were just a little late and there were only a few fish left alive (yes, that’s Nature again. The fish return to where they were hatched to spawn, and once the eggs are laid, the fish die and are food for eagles, birds and bears)

We stayed overnight since we were visiting friends and booked the Travelodge. Not a bad choice. There are quite a few hotels and motels in Parksville as it’s a resort area with some nice beaches.

Road Trip: Close encounters of the Whale kind

Bay of Fundy Big SkyContinuing on our recent road trip…

Since the weather was uncooperative for star gazing, we had a nice dinner out in Yarmouth and relaxed in the hotel for the night. Breakfast in the morning was kind of mediocre but it was free. You sometimes get what you didn’t pay for, right? Today’s destination is Brier Island.

The province of Nova Scotia itself is an isthmus or peninsula, nearly an island and surrounded by water aside from a little neck of land near the New Brunswick border. There’s also another bit of land that is nearly detached from the main province, along the north side along the Bay of Fundy. It’s long and skinny and is called Digby Neck, running into two small islands at the end. The first is Long Island and the last tiny one is Brier Island. The main attraction of this area is eco tourism. There are trails, birds and sea life in abundance. The Bay of Fundy is the summer home of several pods of whales, humpback, minke and “right” whales mostly with schools of dolphins and porpoises and lots and lots of seals. There are many kinds of seabirds as well including one type that lives exclusively on the water and never on land at all. There are a number of companies that will take you out on the Bay with whale watching being the main objective and it’s something we’ve both long wanted to do. The best time to go is over the summer and into September. After that, the whales leave for southern warmer waters to breed.

Historic Cape Forchu

Cape Forchu Lighthouse, Yarmouth

Right. So we’re going there today from Yarmouth which will be about 2 hours or so on the road. First a stop at Cape Forchu outside of Yarmouth to see the lighthouse. It’s a little different, this one. It’s an “applecore” style as you can see from the photo. While this particular structure dates back to the early 60s, there has been a lighthouse or station here since the early 19th century. There’s a little museum in the lighthouse now. The shore line is extremely rocky here and you really don’t want to go clambering over the boulders. It can be very dangerous even if it seems like the sea is calm. Rogue waves have been known to snatch tourists into the briny. Trust me, this happens. It was still foggy that morning so the lighthouse wasn’t at it’s best though sometimes, taking photos in the fog does give them a bit more atmosphere. We could tell the sun was trying to break through and indeed it was full out sunny by the time we were half way to our destination.

East Neck ferry

East Neck ferry, en route to Brier Island

On the road, following Route 1 this time. We stayed on the older highway rather than the 101 for awhile. We stopped at had a look at another lighthouse at Cape St. Mary. By the time we got past St. Anne, though, we decided there wasn’t much interesting along that road so we took the next connector to the 101 and zipped up to Digby where we grabbed a quick lunch at an Irving Big Stop. The sun was out by then, too. We back tracked to the exit for the 417 that leads to the islands. That was a pretty drive through rural areas with glimpses of the water now and then. It’s about a 45 minute drive to the first ferry which runs hourly on the half hour and takes about 7 minutes for the crossing. It’s about 15 minutes to the final ferry to Brier and again, just 5 or 7 minutes across. The village on Brier is Westport and there isn’t a lot there. The island has few hotels or guest houses, just a couple of places to eat, a general store and a gift shop. You can hike as there are lots of trails where you can see lighthouses, bays that have seals frolicking and you might even seen some whales if they come close enough.

We stayed in Brier Island Lodge so we headed there to check in and then drove around the island’s dirt roads. Only the main road along the water is actually paved and just a bit beyond that but the roads are in pretty good condition. We found all three lighthouses, passed a couple of cemeteries outside of the village on hilltops, and went to a cove where we could see seals bobbing in and out of the water. We had dinner in the hotel that night and it was very, very nice! This will be a restaurant that serves really good, really fresh food but isn’t a budget place. Worth a splurge, just the same.

Mama and Baby whale

Mama and baby humpback

The next morning, the skies were blue and the sun was out. Hooray! After an excellent breakfast, we picked up packed lunches that were part of the hotel package and went to the dock to wait for the whale watching cruise to depart. It turned out to be everything we hoped for and more. We were on a small boat, as we weren’t comfortable taking the type of whale watching from a zodiac (similar to a lifeboat in size. Much too small and too close to the water!) They sail out into the Bay and keep watch. We did see some “blow” in the distance and one whale was a bit closer but it didn’t want to have anything to do with the boat and swam off sharpish. Soon, though, another one was spotted closer by so the captain cut the engines off. We floated there and were excited that the whale, a female humpback, swam right up to the boat. She floated there, came up and went down, under the boat from side to side as if she was making sure everyone got a good look. These animals can be well over 50 feet long and many, many tons in weight. You look down over the side of the boat at these creatures that are probably as long as or longer than the boat you’re on and you realize they could have you tipped over if they wanted to. Whales are pretty peaceful, though.


Everyone was taking photos of course and I did too though I made myself put the camera down and watch, just watch, rather than spend the whole time behind the lens. You really do find yourself awestruck at these gentle giants. We saw a couple more close up as well and then after another ride to another spot, we encountered a mother and her calf. They didn’t come close to the boat but they were still close enough that we could all see them well. The calf was showing off, and at one point was waving it’s flippers at us! We weren’t lucky to see them jump right out of the water but they did breech and a couple of times dive with the tail flipper up out of the water. We didn’t see any other types of whales besides the humpback nor did we see any dolphins but it didn’t really matter. We saw whales!

The water in the bay wasn’t too choppy though we did bob about quite a bit while stopped. Nobody seemed to mind much and the sun was very warm. There was a breeze but it wasn’t really cold. We did have warm things on but I had to take my coat off. We both got lots of pictures and some video that I put together into a clip which gives you a better idea of how close they were. A lot of these pictures aren’t zoomed in much at all, not the ones of the whales that came close to the boat. Only a little and the ones of the mother and calf are zoomed in a bit to a lot.

We were out a total of three hours and had a bit of sunburn when we finally came ashore. We’d already checked out of the hotel so we hit the road again, this time heading for Annapolis Royal where we had a Bed and Breakfast booked in nearby Granville Ferry for the night.

Photos of the whales are here.

Photographic memories

One of my most important souvenirs on a trip is my photos. Back in the days of film, there would always be sacrifice and prayers to the photography gods, Please let all my photos come out ok!! They nearly always did aside from the very first or last shot on a roll of film. Sometimes the exposure wasn’t so good there. Nature of the beast.

Composition-wise, they were mostly pretty good and there were very few per roll that I considered “didn’t turn out”. There might have been some that I wasn’t so keen on as far as exposure or composition but on the whole, they all turned out. I laughed when people advocated the early digital cameras as being great because when your pictures don’t turn out, you can just delete them! My photos nearly always did turn out!

Little by little, I’ve gone over to all digital though I haven’t gone to a digital SLR. It’s just too cumbersome to travel with for me these days. Something else I’m trying to do more of is taking video clips. The digital cameras these days are very good at it and most of the newest ones do HD video. Rather than take 3 or 4 photos to make a panoramic shot, I need to remember that video works just as well! A panorama shot will never get printed anyway. Some things really do give you a much better flavour for a scene on video rather than on still photos.

Animals in a zoo, anything musical (buskers, concerts, people having a pub sing-song etc), the sights *and* sounds of a scene bring back more vivid memories. I don’t want to get a video cam though, because I don’t want to have that up in front of my face all the time and you’d be tempted to. With still cameras, you can take your time. Snap and stop. Snap and stop.  Shooting short video clips can be stitched together with software to make a nice “slideshow” type presentation.

My new camera, a Canon SX240, has a neat little feature I must try out on the upcoming trip. There’s a setting that will shoot 2 – 4 seconds of video just before you snap a still photo. You can take a video slideshow of your day in addition to the pictures. That might be neat for visits to things like the Colosseum or the Roman Forum! I could then add my own music to it. Nessun Dorma, Dona e Mobile or the Funicular song or something suitably Italian!

I remember one moment on my first bus tour of the U.K. that I would have loved to have had a camera capable of video. There were 3 or 4 families and couples on the trip from Israel. At one photo stop on the border between England and Scotland, there was, naturally, the obligatory bagpiper to entertain the tourists while we took some photos.  I came back to the area by the bus where the piper was to discover that he was playing Hava Nagila on the pipes and the Israeli women were dancing and kicking up to it in a circle beside him. You just wouldn’t have got the same effect from a still photo!

I keep saying I’m going to remember to take more video clips and little by little I’m starting to take advantage of that feature on my camera. I think it does enhance my photographic memories. So to speak. It doesn’t replace photos or even the panoramic stitched shots. I even still buy the occasional postcard for angles and views, especially of an overall large building or for interiors where cameras aren’t allowed.

Naturally, because I can, I now take a lot more photos than I used to because of the digital technology.  On a two week trip in the past, I might take 12 to 15 rolls of film, 24 exposure and a few 36 as well. When traveling with a friend, we’d get double prints and share them so I would have a heck of a lot of photos! Now my partner and I both take photos and we do try not to take too many of the same view or angle but, with digital, it doesn’t matter anyway. We can just keep the best of the lot. I still send my files away to be printed, generally trying to choose the best of them, something to depict a little of everything we saw. There’s still something about holding a photo album in your lap and it’s way easier to show others and talk about each photo.