Covid has set everyone back, from work to play it has changed plans and turned everyone on their axis. Plans I had of travelling internationally, became exploring my local province more intimately this past year. From the Fraser Valley to the Okanagan Valley, and as far as Grand Forks. And pass Whistler and further North to Lillooet. So for my last vacation of 2020, I decided to branch out to the island.
I have been to Vancouver Island a handful of times, so was now excited to visit during a different season. Fall for the changing colour of the wilderness, some fall fungi foraging, storm watching, and late season fishing. The plan was to go with the flow, allowing curiosity and the call of adventure to take us to all corners of the Island. Skipping the metropolis of Victoria, our travel started at the ferry terminal of Tsawwassen to Schwartz Bay. (This was before the non-essential lock down mind you).
Our vehicle of choice, the new 2021 Nissan Rogue. This would be our primary mode of transportation and place of rest. So the right vehicle was essential. And the Rogue fit the bill. We would be the first to set her through her paces; from a mere 555km on the odometer to more than quadruple that by week’s end. With the ever changing terrain and we travelled from muddy roads to steep watersides. From gravel paved and pothole filled pathways, to wet highways, and even snowy mountainsides. And for all of the above, the 2021 Nissan Rogue had a mode for that. Off-road, snow, eco, and sport. The ability to adjust with a twist of a knob as needed kept us comfortable and safe.
Upon landing earlier in the day, we swung by to the nearest city, and the closest breakfast spot. This happened to be Mary’s Bleue Moon Cafe in Sydney BC. Across the way from BC’s aviation museum, Mary’s served as the cafe and bar for pilots and aviation enthusiasts alike. Decorated with historic newspaper clippings and artifacts, the restaurant doubled as a museum dating all the way back to WWII, in its own right.
Equipped with masks the restaurant sat us at our own socially distant table, within the dining area. Breakfast was a collection of classics egg scrambles and pancakes, sprinkled with more innovative options like breakfast crepes and a build your own omelette.
We shared a full order of their Westcoast Benny with smoked salmon, shrimp and lobster on an English muffin. Topped with a perfectly poached egg and their house made hollandaise sauce, enjoyed with crispy hashbrown potatoes on the side. Sadly, the salmon did overpower the other seafood, leaving me missing the lobster. Heck, I got more cocktail shrimp than lobster. It would have been nice to have lobster stock added to their hollandaise as a fun twist.
And despite being able to make such an assembly myself, I find that I still lean towards such breakfast platters when dining out. But more so today given the name was “breakfast of champions”, and boy did I sure did feel like one. Served on a glass fish plate this was bacon, ham, sausage, with three eggs done your way, hashbrowns, and toast. Definitely a classic for a reason. And maybe it was because I was on carefree vacation mode, but each individual ingredient tasted better: fresher than it would have in the big city.
Then it was off towards Campbell River, the capital of salmon fishing, in the world. With a pit stop in the larger city centre of Nanaimo first. There, I took in some local street art and grabbed a coffee and a treat at local hot spot: The Vault. Given the time, I would have found myself here for a meal.
We spent two days and two nights in Campbell, parked by one of the lakes in Elk Park. Our backdrop: warming clouds, thick greenery, and still waters.
We kept warm in the car thanks to a sleeping bag and multiple blankets piled high. The driver and passenger seat proved comfortable when driving upright with its lumbar support. Although the curvature of the seats less so when fully reclined in slumber. Night two was spent in the tailgate with back seats flattened, this proved more ergonomic.
There was so much to see just cruising around in the 2021 Nissan Rogue with its panoramic sun roof. We discovered pockets perfect for mushroom foraging. Mossy fields teeming with chanterelles, chicken of the woods, elm mushrooms, boletes, cremini, and hedgehog mushrooms. All of which we cooked and ate during our trip.
There were many more mushrooms that were just stunning, but not to be consumed.
Most amazing were the ones we found on the roadside. The bounty and their available was amazing. Especially considering how hard we have to hunt within the lower mainland for such treasures.
The most memorable moment for me during our time in Campbell was fishing with a mama bear and her two cubs. You could see them across the river way. She caught multiple chums with her paw and snout in the cold water, and I couldn’t even get a bite with my bait.
At Campbell we found comfort in the historic Ideal Cafe, established in 1940’s. One lunch was a soggy Monte Cristo with house roasted turkey breast, shaved ham, and mozzarella cheese. Sandwiched between two pieces of egg battered French toast. It was heavy and on the bland side. I ordered it confusing it with a French croque-monsieur. I hoped a dip in the side of tomato and turkey soup would help add some tang, but alas was disappointed by how bland this was too. In retrospect, I have gotten a bowl of their thick and tasty seafood chowder instead. The fish and chips proved tastier with the house made tartar sauce and fries that the server suggested we add a side of gravy for dipping to. This did not disappoint.
Another meal was spent at A&W. Chicken sandwiches and onion rings enjoyed across the spacious Nissan Rogue’s cabin and arm rest.
One dinner had us travelling to Courtenay to take in island night life. A couple flights of beer and a burger with fries at Gladstone Brewery. I fully enjoyed their garage theme that included the up cycled use of old licence plates to holster a flight of four.
Their unique collection of burgers included the “Chrome Dome” a ground pork burger that came in a “Egg in a Hole” Potato Bun. Fun to look at, but hard to eat. The house blended tannadice ground pork was seasoned sweet. It was the dominat flavour profile, whereas I could have used more saltiness from their Natural Pastures Courtenay cheddar cheese or some tang from the Hazy Pale Ale onion relish. But it was the poutine on the side that stole the show with its tasty gravy and meltEd cheese over chewy fries. I always recommend breweries or distilleries as points of interest to visit when travelling, their unique offerings are worth partaking in.
Although, my favourite meal was the one we prepared our self; dry, under the protective tailgate of the 2021 Nissan Rogue. Using propane and camping cookware we sautéed chanterelles with zucchini, pan fried cubes of spam, and boiled up three packets worth of mi goreng. All served up on a plastic plates along side a bottle of red wine.
The day after, our travels took us from Salmon and Kennedy River, to the Pacific Ocean. With a stop and a two night stay in the “Lazy bear cabin” Airbnb in Ucluelet. This was unfortunately amidst of a blackout, due to strong winds blowing down power lines. Luckily our stay coincided with the tail end of it, and power resumed later in the evening. Having been sleeping in the Rogue, we came equipped with our own torches and flashlights; and even had a lamp to keep us warm. Water ran, but it was cold. Therefore our long awaiting shower comprised of a damp rag and boiled water, much like what we were doing before this night.
Nonetheless we made the best out of the situation, keeping warm with layers and warm beverages. Specifically Tofino Distillery’s old growth cedar gin mixed with earl grey tea and ginger ale, for a warm you inside out sorta cocktail.
Dinner was made possible thanks to the barbecue outside and the town’s only grocery store still open. Without electricity they were unable to keep meat cool and therefore dinner compromised of canned corned beef, grilled vegetables and a mix of the chanterelles we collected, along side chicken of the wood. The latter is a type of mushroom, aptly named for its texture that resembles dried chicken. A little too rough for me, but a first experience worth trying nonetheless.
Eventually the power did come back, and we were able to have a late night snack prepared within the warmth of our Airbnb cabin. Snack was toast made with luncheon meat, cheese, and a chanterelle omelette in between two slices of garlic bread. Served along with French pressed coffee and a salted caramel cheesecake slice.
The next day, fresh off of the excitement of having electricity. I made an elm and chanterelle cream of mushroom soup, served along side a different garlic toast sandwich. This time with a sunny side up egg and sautéed elm mushroom filling.
Well fed, it was then off to explore the city of Ucluelet some. Starting with the first look of the Pacific for the week; and a light hike that included a loop around a light house, where winds carried waves and crashed them angrily against large rocks.
As per the locals we grabbed coffee and the Foggy Bean and snacks at Zoe’s Bakery.
And for our last sheltered night in the Airbnb I upcycled leftover mushroom soup into a Parmesan rich, wild mushroom, Alfredo pasta. The perfect side to medium rare steak, grilled tomato, and sautéed hedgehog mushrooms. To drink: wine, was the very same vintage used to make the soup/pasta.
Breakfast the next day was enjoyed on the damp porch outback. Our cabin included its own forest and redwood tree to take in as we ate what we had leftover from the days before.
After a speedy checkout it was off to Tofino and the tsunami hazard done for the last leg of our trip. Here, gentler waves creeping up sandy shores replaced violent ones. Surfers enjoyed the water under them and we the rain that fell above us.
And what is a visit to Tofino, with a stop at the original tacofino truck? There, I recommend their fish tacos for its freshness and the gringa for its lack of availability anywhere else. The chicken gringa, is a 6 inch flour tortilla stuffed with chicken, cheese, salsa, and sour cream; then grilled until gooey and crispy.
Then it was a safe and easy drive back to Nanaimo to catch the ferry home to Vancouver, safe and sound thanks to the 2021 Nissan Rogue. A solid SUV, with enough room to sleep in, even when you over pack. With plenty of comfort and modern features for extended driving. And an amazing fuel economy to get you further and faster than you expected. In short the 2021 Nissan Rogue is a great travel vehicle in our books, and one to consider if you live a similar lifestyle to the one I described above. Thank you Nissan for the loaner and the memories.