I’d like to say that I’ve already been on my dream holiday – mostly because when I left for the airport in August 2023, I thought I was going on it.
I am a typical redhead – blue eyes, freckles and the kind of skin that has only two tones, translucent white and lobster red. In my childhood, there was so little awareness of the risks of skin cancer from the sun, and I grew up in a family of sun worshippers. The rest of the family lay on the beach getting tanned while I huddled under a sun umbrella, but I still experienced several episodes of severe sunburn.
Consequently, my aim on any holiday is to come back the same colour as I left, regardless of where I’ve been. That means large supplies of factor 50 sunscreen, floppy hats, long-sleeved cotton/linen tops and trousers and wrap-around sunglasses.
Fortunately, I’ve never had any desire to spend hours asleep on a beach – my idea of bliss is a walking holiday with spectacular views, new people to meet and good food at the end of a long day’s trek. I don’t need a fancy hotel but I’m too old for communal shower blocks and I do like a comfortable bed.
It takes a few days to wind down properly and during my long career, I’ve rarely had time to take more than a week. So while any time away is a treat, my perfect holiday would have to last at least 2 weeks.
That’s why 16 days in Canada, with 10 days spent driving and hiking our way through the Rockies really was (and is) my dream holiday. We had rented a motorhome for the trip and were due to collect it after a few days spent exploring Vancouver Island.
The holiday started off exceeding every expectation. Vancouver Island is bigger than Belgium and is home to only 850,000 people, of whom half live in one metropolitan area on the southern tip. Long and thin, it has a vast wild, deserted coastline packed with wildlife.
Our amazing hosts welcomed us to a home, set on a steep bank to the water, with views across the bay from every angle. Within hours we were kayaking across the bay, stopping to watch a baby seal fast asleep within feet of us until its mother nudged it to make us aware of our presence. Bald eagles swooped from the treetops as the sun set over the bay and chickadees and woodpeckers fluttered around the bird table.
The Unexpected Twist
In the morning, hummingbirds flocked to the sugar-water feeder right outside the kitchen window. Over the next four days we hiked up mountains where we felt on top of the world, cycled through shady forest paths, saw sea otters and many more seals and, one special morning, were called to our hosts’ porch for a view of a passing pod of Orca whales.
I had been determined that nothing was going to spoil our first proper holiday in years. Passports, airport parking, tickets and connections had been checked and checked again; travel insurance had been booked well in advance and the documents were safely in my hand luggage, along with my medication; campsites were booked and I knew I didn’t need any special vaccinations.
But the night before we were due to depart for the Rockies, the terrible wildfires in British Columbia meant that a ban of all non-essential travel to the Rockies was introduced – almost a first in summertime. This was one eventuality I could never have planned for.
Thankfully, our extraordinary hosts, who had lived on the island for 40 years, were determined that we should still make the most of our trip. Fortunately, we had only explored a tiny corner of Vancouver Island, so we were able to redraw our plans and instead spent the rest of our trip travelling the island in our motor home.
Over the next ten days, we hiked through ancient forest; explored deserted beaches populated by exotic birds and vast stone ‘sea stacks’; watched salmon leaping up the falls to their spawning grounds; spotted bear tracks in the sand and even saw a black bear.
Cormorant Island, just off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, is home to many First Nation members, including the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw Tribes of 'Namgis First Nation. We reached the main village, Alert Bay, via an impressively efficient and regular ferry service from the mainland and immediately set off down the boardwalk along the seafront, shrouded in picturesque mist, to the U'mista Cultural Centre, set up to ensure the survival of all aspects of the cultural heritage of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw.
We wandered through rooms filled with masks and ceremonial objects, marvelling at the stories, traditions and images of this proud people. The extraordinary Potlatch Collection - filled with costumes and ceremonial masks from this opulent ceremonial feast when members of the community would gather for days, dancing, singing and giving away their wealth to enhance their prestige in the community - was breathtaking.
Alert Bay is sometimes known as the home of the Orca, so I was excited to catch another glimpse of these magnificent creatures. As we sat on the dock waiting for the ferry, my eye was caught by a splash in the water. Too close to land for Orcas, but as I watched, a dolphin emerged, followed by another…and another…and another. Within seconds, the whole pod was leaping – seemingly as if from pure joy – through the waves in front of us.
...and New Found Favourites
So was it my dream holiday? Well, I still plan to go back and hike in the Rockies – but I would recommend 2 weeks on Vancouver Island to anyone.