August 1-6, Port Hardy, BC

We left Nanaimo Saturday morning and drove to the northern part of Vancouver Island to Port Hardy – the highway stops here.  We are staying in the Port Hardy RV Resort, a small park situated on the Quatse River just above the estuary.   It is much cooler here and everything is greener even though according to the campground host it has been very dry here just like the southern part of the island.

After dinner we took a short walk along the river and saw a lot of bald eagles.  The eagles are very vocal and perch in the trees around the campground.   In one of the trees just behind some RVs there was a mama bear and two cubs.  They were really high up in the tree and it was hard to see them but we got a picture of the mama – one cub was above her and the other was on a small branch off to the side. 

The salmon have started running and when the tide is out there is a shallow spot where the salmon have to struggle across.  While we were watching the salmon a male black bear came out of the woods across the river from us.

He ran at the salmon directly in front of us but was not successful in catching one - he then went back into the trees.  We waited for a while but he never came back – he probably found a better fishing spot up river.  What a treat but we have to be very aware and make sure the dogs are near us at all times.

Sunday morning we woke to the sound of eagles calling, what a beautiful sound first thing in the morning and throughout the day.   The mama bear and cubs were gone when we went down to the river.  We spoke to one of our neighbors who said the sound of splashing woke him about 5 am and he watched the mama catch salmon for her cubs and then they went into the trees across the river.  We think that with the male hanging around she will probably leave the area.

Sunday afternoon we took the dogs for a short hike on the Quatse Trail along the river just upstream from the campground.  The trail loops through a beautiful forested area and by the salmon hatchery - we all enjoyed a great hike.

We saw this Bald Eagle sitting in a tree beside the trail.  We all enjoyed this beautiful hike.

We again went to the river after dinner when the tide was out to watch the salmon and, hopefully, see the bear again.  Rex got some good shots of the salmon struggling across the low spot in the river.  It was amazing to see how hard they have to struggle to get across.  Some of the salmon work very hard and just before they get to the other side they turn around and go back to where they started – you just want to go out there and help them across.

We were not disappointed as the bear (we think it is the same one we saw last night) appeared right on schedule and started fishing.  He tried to get some salmon right in front of us again but a dog started barking at him so he retreated and headed down river a short distance and was successful.   He carried the salmon back into the woods and we waited for about 30 minutes but he did not come back.  Seeing a bear two nights in a row – we can’t wait to see what happens next!

Monday we drove to Coal Harbor, a small fishing village on Holberg Inlet on the west coast of the island. Coal Harbor was home to Canada’s last whaling station which operated until the mid-1960s. This was not a very picturesque place and not much to see so we headed back to the east coast and stopped in Port McNeill which is on the Broughton Straight.  We had a picnic lunch in a small park just above the harbor while we watched the boats coming and going.  After looking around Port McNeill we headed south to Telegraph Cove which is at the entrance to Johnstone Straight.  Telegraph Cove is one of the last surviving boardwalk communities on Canada’s west coast.  We walked around this small community almost entirely perched on a boardwalk.

We stopped at the Whale Interpretive Centre and enjoyed the educational displays about whales and other marine mammals.  This is a 60’ (17 meter) fin whale skeleton. 

By the time we got back the RV park it was starting to rain and rained most of the night.  We did not go to the river in the rain to see if the bear made another appearance.  This is some much needed moisture for the area.

Tuesday morning we woke to rain and drizzle so we decided to drive to the west coast again and see Holberg and Winter Harbor.  Holberg is 48 km (29.7 miles) from Port Hardy on a gravel logging road.  Along the road we stopped at the “shoe tree” which started as a joke by a local resident and is now a Vancouver Island legend with hundreds of boots, sandals and shoes on its trunk and slung across its branches.

Holberg is at the end of Holberg Inlet and was once the site of the world’s largest floating logging camp.  It is a small town with not much to see so we headed to Winter Harbor which is another 25 km on more logging roads.  We met a number of large logging trucks stacked high with newly cut logs – the logging trucks have the right of way so you have to get out of their way on these narrow roads.   It got a little exciting a couple of times but we made it to Winter Harbor safe and sound.  

Winter Harbor is a very small fishing village with again not much to see.  We stopped at a small regional park and campground for a picnic.  We thought this large hollow tree stump was interesting.

We drove back to Holberg and took another logging road to Cape Palmerston where we tried to get to the beach via the river bed which had large downed trees blocking the way.  We started climbing over the piles of trees and after making it over a couple of piles we had decided to turn back when Cody fell off one of the logs.  He fell about 6 feet onto a stump.  When we got him down he would not put any weight on his left back leg.   We could tell that nothing was broken and suspect it is badly bruised.  Rex carried him back to the Jeep and then we discovered a trail farther up the road.  We left Cody in his crate in the Jeep and took Camille with us to the beach.  The trail was short but had lots of tree roots and a few small logs to crawl over.  The beach was beautiful – lots of driftwood and rocks.  We only stayed a few minutes as we wanted to get Cody back to the 5th wheel and we still have a long drive back.

We made one last stop at the Bernt Ronning Garden.  Bernt Ronning established a homestead in 1910 near the western terminus of the old San Josef Wagon Road.  This road was promised as access to the settlers further out at Cape Scott, but was never completed.  Most settlers abandoned the area over the years, but Ronning lived here into the 1960’s, working as a trapper, fisherman, and camp cook.  As he gradually cleared five acres of the rainforest he ordered seeds and cutting of trees and plants from around the world.  His house and gardens became a regular way station for the settlers hiking from Cape Scot, Raft Cove, and San Joseph Bay.

In the late 60’s and 70’s the garden nearly disappeared under the encroaching brush and alders.  The garden is once again freed from the invading rain forest.  The many rhododendrons that managed to survive are thriving and seeds that lay dormant have sprouted with new showing of flowers.  Many plants and trees have been identified so far, with new ones turning up all of the time.  The variety and depth of the collection is slowly emerging.  This is a beautiful garden in the rainforest out in the wilds of the west coast.

It rained and misted off and on all day but we still had a great time except for Cody hurting his leg.  If he is not better by tomorrow morning we will take him to a veterinarian in Port Hardy.

Wednesday morning Cody still would not put any weight on his leg so we took him to the North Island Veterinary Hospital in Port Hardy where they were very accommodating and saw him after a short wait.  He has some soft tissue damage but the vet could not find anything else wrong.  He gave us some steroid pain medication and told us to keep him quiet for a couple of weeks.  We are thankful that the injury was not serious!

After we got Cody settled down from his vet visit and had some lunch we headed out to Port Alice about 55 km southwest of Port Hardy – thankfully on a paved road.   About half way to Port Alice we stopped and hiked the Marble River Trail to Bear Falls.  The guide book we had said it was a walk in the forest but it ended up being a 2 hour hike – but it was a beautiful hike in the rainforest.  From 1902 to 1906 a series of hurricane force wind events struck northern Vancouver Island, leveling over 160 square kilometers of forest.  This stand of forest regenerated naturally following these wind storms.  There are still lots of large downed trees across the trail.

The roots of this huge fallen tree dwarfs Nancy standing beside it.

After about an hour we finally made it to Bear Falls and it was well worth the effort.  It is a small waterfall but very beautiful.  

This was a great hike and we are glad we decided to stop and take the time to do it. 

We continued on to Port Alice - a beautiful town perched on a hillside facing the Neroutsos Inlet.  

After looking around Port Alice we started a scenic drive around Alice Lake – once again on gravel logging roads.  We stopped at the Devil’s Bath Karst site – one of Canada’s largest cenotes or flooded sink holes.  It has a circumference of 359 m and is 44 m deep in places.   The cenote is connected to the Benson River, which is located 200 m to the northwest, through a system of cave passages that plummet as deep as 80 m below the water table.

During the summer the Benson River becomes completely dry between the subsurface systems as the water flow is entirely diverted through the Benson Cave.  The cave system moves the water to the Devil’s Bath, ultimately draining back into the Benson River through the Devil’s Spring Cave.  There was a lot of logs floating in the Devil’s Bath.

The next stop was at the Eternal Fountain where the water returns to the surface creating a beautiful waterfall that disappears back into the ground.  Above this waterfall there were a couple of dry sink holes where we could hear the river flowing underground.  We really enjoyed seeing these unusual geologic features.  After we left the Eternal Fountain a black bear ran across the road in front of us – a great surprise.

The final part of the drive was along the far side of Alice Lake – a beautiful mountain lake.  Another great day seeing more of this beautiful island.

Thursday morning we took a whale watching cruise with Seasmoke Whale Watching.   It is very cloudy and we hope it doesn’t rain during our cruise.  We met our sail boat named “Tuan” at Alder Bay.  We met our sail boat named “Tuan” at Alder Bay.   It is a small boat but there are only 10 passengers and 2 crew so it is not crowded at all.

They provided us with all weather gear – coveralls and jackets which kept us very warm and dry during the cruise.  Rex getting ready for sailing.

Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and we were not able to sail but we headed out into Johnstone Strait under motor power. We had homemade muffins and tea on the way out of the harbor - Mmm good!   It didn’t take long for us to spot a couple of humpback whales.

After watching these whales for a while we moved on and saw some seals and lots of birds.  We found more humpback whales and spent more time watching them feeding.

There were lots of beautiful small islands that we sailed around and between spotting bald eagles in the trees.  We were served a Devonshire Tea which was tea with biscuits and raspberry jam topped with whipped cream – a really nice treat on a wonderful cruise!

 We found these Stellar Sea Lions sleeping on the rocks.

We had a great cruise and the weather held out until we got back.  We drove to Port McNeil where we ate lunch at a pub – it started raining while we were eating. 

Cody is still not using his leg but we can tell that he is feeling better and that the medication is helping.

We really enjoyed our stay at Port Hardy and getting to see all the wildlife – bears, eagles, salmon, whales and lots of birds.   We like the more remote and wild areas and we are glad that they are getting much needed moisture.


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