Vancouver Island: Port Renfrew back to Victoria

photo: Botanical Beach at Juan de Fuca Park near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

Botanical Beach in Juan de Fuca Park, the split between gravel beach and rock.

I had breakfast at the Coastal Kitchen Cafe in Port Renfrew, recommended by the woman at the hotel. For half an hour I was the only person in there. They have wifi, but that's almost a given here - it's great when you're travelling. They also have a full-on espresso machine, and she made me the best mocha I've had in years. They had "the Pacific Benny" on the menu - Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, so evidently that's a thing here (a good thing). I had an omelet with smoked salmon and red pepper (and loads of cheddar).

Next up was Botanical Beach, this time with a low tide (it was a three foot tide, although my guide book recommends a one foot tide, or better yet a summer minus tide ... sorry, can't wait around for either of those). The beach is solid (ie. not pebbled) stone, full of crevasses and potholes. The potholes are what makes it interesting: as the water recedes, these tide pools stay full of water, and are full of wonderful things: surf grass, sculpins, anemones, limpets, mussels, chitons, sea stars, sea urchins, periwinkles, and small crabs. I realized as I looked down into these pools that a polarizing filter would be a huge help to kill the reflection off the surface of the water, and that I even had a polarizing filter ... in my bag ... in the hotel. Although truth be told, not only could I not really afford the two stops the filter would have knocked off the light, but there are mechanical problems with using the polarizing filter with this particular camera that have meant I've never tried it before. Technical issues aside, it was utterly fascinating and I stayed on the beach from 1000 until 1230, just peering into pools and taking pictures.

My next stop was also part of Juan de Fuca Park, although about 40 km away: I hiked the 2 km trail in to Mystical Beach. The best bit of that excursion was probably the foot traffic suspension bridge across Pete Wolf Creek: not only does it wobble about when people walk on it, but the surface is open grid, so you're looking at a 10 or 15 metre drop into the creek. I'm okay with open plating like that, but I can see where it would get some people uncomfortable.

The trail to the beach is a part of the much longer Juan de Fuca Coastal Trail: as my guide book pointed out, the local trail notes claim the difficulty is "intermediate," but practically speaking it's quite easy. There are a large number of board walks and even stairs (one carved into a massive fallen tree) - although this doesn't entirely keep you out of the ever-present mud. Not that the mud is particularly bad - I just mention it because it really is a part of hiking around here, trails are always a bit on the squelchy side.

Speaking of "squelchy," the second most common bit of wildlife I've been seeing is the notorious banana slug. The most common is the standard issue robin. The first banana slug I encountered was three inches long and midnight black. That's a bit of a shock when you're accustomed to slugs being an inch long and mid-brown. Banana slugs are usually brown-yellow, occasionally with brown spots. And I can now tell you they're not as tasty as a real banana.

After Mystic Beach I drove to Sooke Potholes Park, which has a hell of a ravine through it, with falls and white water and wonderfully water-carved stone formations - all of which is fairly hard to photograph as the ravine is deep and in most places you can't get to the bottom at all. But walking at the top does offer tantalizing glimpses. I didn't really give it as much time as I should have, because I thought it best that I return to Victoria. In hindsight I should have stayed longer, because just outside Sooke I encountered a massive line of stationary cars. I returned to Sooke, where I got gas and the news: there was a head-on collision between a truck and a minivan, and it might be several hours before the road was open again.

So I dug into the camera problem. As mentioned previously, the Canon SX10is uses a button battery to keep the date. Research last night told me that it's a CR1220 battery. So I tried the drugstore in Sooke, where they had a 1216 and a 1225, but no 1220. But, when I asked, they recommended Mom's Café for dinner - at which point a light went on over my head as I remembered Bill and Do-Ming's recommendation for exactly that place. But first, to the dollar store for batteries. No joy there either: they also had the 1216 and the 1225. But the young woman at the desk put up with me tinkering with the batteries: I confirmed that all three (my dead 1220 and the two kinds she had) are all exactly the same diameter, but different thicknesses. So I bought the slightly thinner 1216 (three for $2, it's a dollar store) and stuffed one in the Canon. And voilà, the date problem appears to be cured. Sadly, the issue may be more difficult with the backup camera: Canon doesn't consider that replacement to be user serviceable, but that's a problem for when I get home.

With advance apology to Do-Ming, I'm going to slag Mom's Café. Not that it was actively bad, and I may have made a poor choice. I got the fish and chips remembering last night's exemplary cod ... But Mom's cod is half the thickness, and the breading is twice as thick so all it tastes of is batter. The fries were so-so, and the coleslaw was just plain bad. Not a good idea to try to recreate such a success as last night's dinner at a different place. On the plus side, the Okanagan Springs Black Lager is one of the loveliest beers I've had in a while: I'll be looking for that one again.

I'm considering writing "A Tasters Guide to Tap Water Across Canada," starting with the towns around Lake Superior and Vancouver Island. I didn't think much of Victoria water ... until I tried Port Renfrew water. I asked a waitress in Port Renfrew if their tap water was drinkable before I had tasted it. She said "yes," but clearly has more liberal views of these things than I do. But she was probably answering the implicit question "can I drink it without being poisoned?" rather than the one I'm implying here about what it does to your taste buds. And as a hiker, water is kind of important: I did drink Port Renfrew water that I carried with me ... grimacing every time.

Gas on Vancouver Island is $1.24.9 with a consistency across both space and time that would leave gas station attendants in Toronto completely gobsmacked. And this is one of the reasons that I'm happily driving a Mazda 2 around the Island.

280 photos in two days.