Tuesday, 17 September 2019

A September visit to Hornby Island- Part 3- Storm watching

By Keith and Heather Nicol
Keith walking into the wind along the scenic Helliwell Trail
    With the weather playing havoc with our mid September sea kayaking and mountain bike plans we decided to do storm watching – Hornby Island style. The weather for the week (Sept 9-16) was definitely more windy than normal and bands of showers and rain made their appearance on several days. But we found that the prevailing Southeast storm winds striking the south facing cliffs of Helliwell Provincial Park produced some great vistas of crashing waves. In fact, looking at the layout of the Gulf Islands, Hornby might be the best place to see waves striking cliffs in all of the Salish Sea! 
The cliffs at Helliwell produced fine storm watching
   We love the Helliwell Provincial Park trail since it provides fine views of Garry Oak meadows fronting on the ocean. This open feel is rare in the Comox Valley and with the elevated views of the ocean and views of Mt Arrowsmith and the mountains of Vancouver Island in the distance you can’t beat this hike in good weather. But we found it equally impressive in stormy weather. So if you like storm watching there is no need to head to Tofino, just head to Hornby Island when the fall and winter storms are raging. Just make sure the wind is from the south east (which it normally is in storms) since that will produce the best viewing conditions. The Helliwell hike is 5 km and is easy to do for most ages and stages since it is mostly level and well maintained. For more information on Hornby Island see:   http://hornbyisland.com/
Storms crashing into the shore line at Helliwell

A September trip to Hornby Island- Part 2

by Keith and Heather Nicol
Heather at Heron Rocks
     We recently returned from a week long trip to Hornby Island were we had hoped to get in lots of mountain biking and sea kayaking. But although we did have some good weather at times it was often very windy and wet at times so we decided to explore Hornby’s rocky shoreline when the weather cooperated. Hornby Island is well known for its sandy beaches like those at Big and Little Tribune Bay and Whaling Station beach.  But we like to explore so this time we decided to check out the rocky shorelines instead. .  Of course the best to visit these areas is when the tides are low or medium so check the tide tables for Hornby Island before you set.  We explored both places at tides of around 2 meters which was fine but lower tides might be even better. The places
mentioned here are easily seen on the great Denman/Hornby visitor map that you can pick up at the ferry terminal at Buckley Bay.
The sandstone is pitted and eroded in strange shapes-Heron Rocks
Some sandstone looks like a rasied spider web
  The first area we came across is at Heron Rocks near Ford’s Cove and it is accessed at Ford’s Cove or by going to the Heron Rock Friendship Centre ( http://heronrocks.ca/) . We opted for the latter and the shoreline here has amazing wave washed sandstone erosional features that are well worth taking a look at. Much of Hornby is underlain by solid conglomerate (basically solidified gravels) but along this shore sandstone makes an appearance. Sandstone (basically solidified sand) eroded differently and can form very interesting patterns. Bring your camera and see what kind of rocky art work images you can create!
Sandstone layers at Sandpiper Beach
 We also explored Sandpiper Beach which is accessed by a community park and shore trail.  The rocky shore is different here featuring sloping beds of sedimentary rocks and again the sandstone rock creates the nicest rock art in our opinion. Some areas look like topographic maps since the rock layers erode at different rates.  There are no doubt other areas of that are great for rocky shore exploring but we found these 2 areas to be interesting and easily accessible.  For more information see: http://hornbyisland.com/.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

A September Visit to Hornby Island - Part 1

By Keith and Heather Nicol
Wheels come in handy for hauling kayaks over Hornby's beaches
      With school starting and tourist numbers getting smaller we decided it would be a good time to head to Hornby Island to do some kayaking , hiking, mountain biking and beach walking. We last visited Hornby Island almost a year ago in October and that time we were on our own. This time we were in a larger group including brother Bruce and his wife Mary Ellen and they also invited their Victoria friends Rene and Mieke. We started our holiday with great weather and on Tuesday, September 10 we had an exploratory walk along the High Salal trail which was new to us and then we paddling to Flora Island.  The kayaking launch point was Whaling Station beach and due to the low tide we were glad we brought our “wheels” to help get the kayaks to the water. 
Kayaking in perfect conditions
  We paddled under light winds and sunny skies and saw tons of seals on the islands as well as some spotted sandpipers and gulls. We lunched in the sun on Flora Island even saw a few California sea lions in a group resting in the water. Over all this kayak route is about 8 km making it a great morning or afternoon paddle.  And a real bonus was that we arrived back at high tide which meant an easy carry of gear and kayaks to the cars. 
The views from the Middle Bench trail are superb
  The next day (Wednesday, September 11) the wind was up so we opted to do some hiking and mountain biking on some of Hornby’s fine trails off of Mount Geoffrey. While the rest of the group hiked the amazing Middle Bench trail (accessed off of Mount Rd), Rene and Keith mountain biked to the top of Mt Geoffrey via the scenic Outer Ridge trail and then wound our way down via Devil’s Kitchen , Far Side, Slalom, Mr Toads Wild Ride to Washing Machine (which we loved due to its banked turns) and we ended at Slade Rd where were cycled back to our accommodation.  We like mountain biking at Hornby since the trails are fairly smooth and generally easier than those around Courtenay.  Plus the scenery is impressive! And we had the trails to ourselves which was a nice plus. The forecast for the following days was for showers and wind so we were glad we got in the biking and kayaking in under good conditions. For information on Hornby Island see: http://hornbyisland.com/   
Rene biking along the scenic Upper Ridge trail- Denman Island and the Vanc Island in backgrd

Saturday, 7 September 2019

A first time trip to amazing Malcolm Island – Part 2

by Keith and Heather Nicol
     On Thursday, September 5 we awoke to dense fog (in fact we could hear fog horns off and on all night) so we opted to head into Sointula to check out the museum and explore some other parts of the island. By the time we got into town the weather had started to clear and we stopped by the wharf to fill up our drinking bottles (Bere Point has only non potable water available). We could see the fog lying on the water between Dickenson Point and Vancouver Island and at the lookout at Dickenson Point we spotted a minke whale cruising off shore. We drove along Kaleva Road with intermittent ocean views, picnic tables and benches to the end at Meynell Point.
At Dickenson Point whale watching
  We ate a picnic lunch at the sheltered tables at the Resource Centre located opposite the ferry terminal (be sure to head here to get info on the Island) while we waited for the museum to open at noon.  Sointula has a fascinating history, founded over a hundred years ago by Finns seeking a utopian community. In fact Sointula means “place of harmony”.  Although the settlement didn’t work out quite as its founders had envisioned, some of the original settlers did create a vibrant life for themselves fishing and logging and they founded the province’s oldest Cooperative which survives to this day. The museum has information and artifacts describing what the early life was like and is well worth a visit.
The Museum main art work depicks the Finns leaving poor working conditions for "Utopia"
 We had been told that the Mateoja Heritage Trail was worth a visit but given the now sunny but cool day we opted to just hike a portion of it since much of it is shaded by the trees.  With the fog now gone we wanted to get on the water again and this time paddled toward Black Bluff (with a GPS this time). We saw loons and other sea birds and again paddled off shore to avoid the kelp beds. On our return paddle we saw the blow and dive of another humpback well offshore.   After our paddle, with the sun late afternoon sun on the driftwood logs of Beautiful Bay we sat with many other campers with binoculars pealed for Ocras that might come to rub. Some campers had told us they had been coming twice a summer for the last 5 years in the hopes of seeing this rare activity. But the views of ocean and mountain beyond Queen Charlotte strait are impressive in their own right.
Heather offshore to avoid the kelp beds with snow capped mountains behind
 The next day dawned sunny and warm but we as we broke camp and headed into Sointula to catch the 11:00 am ferry.  Over all we had seen 4 whales from shore or while kayaking and we loved the ambiance of Malcolm Island. We definately will be back. For more information see: https://www.sointulainfo.ca/.
At the whale watching beach

A first time visit to amazing Malcolm Island – Part 1

by Keith and Heather Nicol
We spotted our first whale from the ferry
    We had heard good things about Malcolm Island from friends in the Comox Valley and its main settlement Sointula so with a good weather forecast we drove there on Wednesday, September 4 from Courtenay to check things out. It took us 3 hours of driving to reach the ferry terminal in Port McNeill and we got in line for the 1 pm ferry.  We picked up a copy of the Malcolm Island brochure at the Port McNeill tourist info booth and after a quick thirty minutes ferry ride we were driving toward Bere Point- our planned camping spot for our 3 day trip. A bonus was that we spotted a whale during the short ferry ride which we took to be a good omen for our trip. The weather was sunny with light winds and after setting up our tent at one of the forested campsites (all the waterfront ones were not surprisingly taken) we readied our kayaks for a paddle to Malcolm Point – 4.5 km away.

Orcas sometimes rub on the steep pebble beach behind Heather
    Initially we paddled along the shore where Orcas occasionally come to rub on the rounded pebbles which form a steep beach. Areas where Orcas come to shore to rub on rounded pebbles are very rare but some campers told us that a pod had visited these rocks just a few days before we arrived. Amazing! No whales on this day so we carried on to Malcolm Point where we ran into kelp beds that forced to head out away from the shore.  We had a light north wind and the weather was perfect for paddling- sunny with temperatures around 18 C. The views across Queen Charlotte Strait were impressive with ragged peaks with glaciers on some of the higher mountains. We reached Malcolm Point in time to see a humpback blow and dive 200 meters or so off shore but also noticed that the fog was rolling right toward us. We decided not to linger at Malcolm Point and paddled quickly back toward Bere Point. We got caught about ½ back and spent the next 20 minutes or so paddling directly with the waves which we knew were headed toward Bere Point. Bere Point finally came into view and we vowed that the next time we went out we would bring our GPS so that we could better navigate if we got caught again by fog.
We paddled through kelp beds with Queen Charlotte Strait behind

  We arrived back at the boat launch to a high tide which made getting out much easier. The boat launch at Bere Point is best at higher tides since it has cobbles to deal with a medium and low tides.  The fog lingered all evening so we happily made a fire to stay warm before bedtime. 
Fog caught us on our return trip- Bere Point looms in the distance