My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part 2: British Columbia’s Cortes Island

I’ve been wanting to visit Cortes ever since reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being, one of my favorite books of the last few years, and discovering that one of the two stories it winds together is set on Cortes. It seemed, if possible, even more Lopezian than Lopez Island, where I live.

Although we were only there for two days, I think I can safely say I was right. With under 2,000 year-round residents, Cortes is a quiet place in the off-season. Its beaches and forests looked like ours, only more so.

Looking northeast, toward the Sunshine Coast

Manson’s Landing–such a sweet spot!

Granted, I’ve never seen a 5-fingered Madrona, even on Lopez!

Nor do we have cedar trees anywhere near this old. OK, Cortes, you got us badly beat in the tree department, bless you.

But the thing that REALLY blew our minds on Cortes was…

…You know what? I’ll get to that in a moment. It was pretty jaw-dropping. So I need to save it for last.

Before then, I’ll share a few pictures from where we stayed. Like Quadra Island, the local provincial parks didn’t provide campgrounds, so we opted for the well-recommended Hollyhock Retreat Center. I mean Centre. It’s famous for multi-day classes in yoga and writing and history and, gosh, just about everything, but you can also just stay there. I was amazed at how reasonable their rates were: $180 per night for two people, with a shared bathroom (which we actually had to ourselves), all meals included. That’s Canadian dollars, so it was really less than $150 U.S.–and the meals alone were worth that! Hollyhock is entirely off-grid and produces nearly all its own pescatarian food. I’m not a taking-pictures-of-dinner kind of person, but here are a couple of shots from their garden, so you can just guess how amazing the food was.

Must…eat…kale!

I just could not make myself stop taking pictures of that garden. Anyone want to volunteer-garden there? Send in your application!

The view from outside our cozy room

One of many cool buildings on their forested campus…who wouldn’t want to study something in here?

No classes were going on the days we were at Hollyhock, which was fine with us. We just wanted to hike and bike around and get a feel for Cortes, which is what we did. Well–not so much the biking part. It’s VERY hilly there, and the one day we thought we’d try riding on the flatter parts, the wind was blowing 22 mph. But hiking, yes.

And that’s where we discovered…this.

Oh, it looks like bridge over just another creek. But that creek…

…is no creek at all–it’s the ocean! Rushing at very low tide from an inlet out to the bay…

…in a SALTWATER WATERFALL. A saltwaterfall! Have you ever heard of such a thing?

I’m not kidding! Those are barnacles growing there.

We were so gobsmacked by this, we actually tasted the water to convince ourselves it was indeed the ocean. A little jellyfish only confirmed the answer. Then we were overwhelmed by our luck in just happening to be there at low tide. Had we arrived another time, we might never have discovered this phenomenon.

And speaking of which, how amazing is it that we HAD never heard of this special saltwaterfall? Are they that common in BC? Or is that just Cortes Cool?

Because it is. Cool. Even beyond what I had imagined. So please, everyone–stay away in droves and keep it that way. ­čÖé

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part I: British Columbia’s Quadra Island

Last week we finally made time to visit with our neighbors. They’re nice people–just like us, actually, only nicer. Because they’re Canadians. In fact, our neighbor IS Canada. British Columbia, to be exact.

The Mate and I were embarrassed to say how little we knew Vancouver Island and the smaller islands between it and mainland British Columbia…given that we can literally see the nighttime glow of Victoria from our house, and on clear days, the mountains of the big island’s center.┬á

In the past eight years since we moved to within viewing distance, we have been to Vancouver Island exactly ONCE. Just to Victoria. Yes, we took our kids hiking on the West Coast Trail, but that was TWENTY YEARS AGO. And yes, we once visited friends on Denman Island, but that was THIRTY-TWO YEARS AGO.

We were overdue for a visit.

As followers of Wing’s World know, my blog only occasionally morphs into Travel Blog mode, and even then, not the kind of travel blog with tips and descriptions of where to find the best artisanal meal. Over the next few posts, I’ll simply share some pictures and brief descriptions, and leave it to you to decide if you feel inspired to visit where we’ve been. Please do let me know if you’d like more specific recommendations about places to go or stay.

Up first: Quadra Island.

To get there, we took the ferry from San Juan Island (next to our Lopez) to Sidney, BC, then drove 3+ hours up the coast to Campbell River. Except for Mount Findlayson Provincial Park (with ENORMOUS old growth cedars and a salmon-spawning stream, right outside Victoria), this was a pretty dull drive, because we were beelining it on the inland highway. I’d recommend taking the slower coastal route…but we were in a hurry to get to the islands.

Campbell River itself? Not as cosy as its neighbor across the sound, Powell River, but it had its charm, including an excellent natural foods store, and this sculpture:

OK, Campbell River…creepy, but cool.

The ferry to Quadra took 10 minutes, but we still saw a humpback on the crossing. (Didn’t grab my camera fast enough for that.)

We had planned to camp, but neither of the two big Provincial Parks there had car-type campgrounds, and we weren’t set up for backpacking this time. The Heriot Bay Inn’s campground was WAY too sardine-packed for our taste (a tent between 2 RVs just doesn’t conjure up that camp-y feeling). But we were able to get a cute little room in the 100 year-old building…

…that came with its own cat.

Hard to take selfies with an ipad, turns out.

Our first two days of hiking were sunny, but also smoky from the many forest fires further north. Quadra’s beaches reminded us of ours…

Interesting note: no anemones in the tidepools, but lots of oysters!

…as did its giant, moss-covered┬á hummocks rising out of forest.

Not pictured: me taking a skinny-dip in that lake back there!

When the rain came, it was very welcome, as it chased away all that smoke and (we trust) also helped the firefighters win their fight. The wild, wet coast felt familiar and exotic at the same time.

Ahhhhh…

Smaller than our Salish Sea ones. Typical? Unusual? Don’t know.

But this fir tree was in a class by itself.

They call this the Octopus Tree. Wonder why.

One of our favorite spots, on the southern end of the island, was Rebecca Spit, a day-use only park that is probably bustling in summer. But for us, on a sunny September day (which just happened to be our 31st anniversary), it was peaceful, and picnic-perfect.

Lovely place for a stroll, eh.

And then there was this guy on the road-paving crew near the inn, with his buddy, all vested up for safety:

Our kind of island, Quadra.

Next up: Cortes Island! (If you think Quadra’s quirky…)