Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sioux Falls to Sydney via Port Alberni, BC

All the flights from Sioux Falls to Vancouver were on time and connections were made without problems. I knew it must have been a good day because even the Canadian immigration official was pleasant. And that was a first!
Despite an uncooperative cargo door on our little Dash 8 that was to take me on the 14 minute flight to Victoria, I was not too late and was picked up by friends and driven up the coast three hours north to Port Alberni. It was only a few days before my departure that I learned how far Port Alberni was from Victoria. There were at least two airports closer but at least this way I got to see more of the country side.

Once we left the suburban sprawl of Victoria, the landscape became what I has always imagined. Green tree covered hills, ocean vistas and snow covered mountains. Quite a contrast to Tucson. And it was 20 degrees cooler!
We stopped en route at Chemainus. Once a town that relied solely on its sawmills, it has broken free of its dependence on the logging industry and has become Canada’s largest outdoor gallery with its wonderful life-sized murals. All professionally painted on the sides of downtown buildings, the murals reflect the history and the people of this small town. Chemainus now boasts over 30 of these murals. You can also shop until you drop at over 100 antique dealers. And they had great coffee shops too.

The drive to Port Alberni provides some incredible scenery. Fast running rivers, secluded lakes and forests of giant trees towering above you. MacMillian Provincial Park contains Cathedral Grove. Over 1000 years old, this old growth forest is home to ancient red cedars and majestic 900-year-old Douglas firs.
Next morning we headed into Stamp River Provincial Park to visit the fish ladder and hopefully see some salmon trying to make it up Stamp Falls. The fish ladder was put here to help them circumnavigate the torrent and increase the level of spawning upstream. Despite the fact that a huge number of fish (some whoppers) could be seen congregating in the clear pools below the falls, none were making the attempt to get up further.

We then visited the McLean Mill National Historical Site to discover the rustic beginnings of BC's timber industry. You step back in time here on a walk through the original camp of the loggers and mill workers, the 1920s era steam mill, the dam, mill pond, and over 30 other buildings. It has been restored to working condition but unfortunately not on the day we visited. A steam train brings visitors up from the town on specific days and it is then the huge old saws get humming.

A small detour took us to the Chase and Warren vineyard and winery. The BC wine industry produces under pretty adverse conditions with a very short growing season, variable weather conditions and potential deer ravages. As a result early maturing whites eg. Gewuerztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir is about all they can grow. We tasted the whole range and I was quite surprised at the quality. They say they get the grapes reasonably ripe but they are allowed to add sugar and acid and the vigneron was not too forthcoming on the additions he had made to the wines we were trying. We bought a few bottles for dinner and one to take home to Aus so he did ok from our visit.

Next morning we drove back down to Victoria. It is a pretty city on the water with some impressive buildings. We only had time for a quick look around and a great lunch, a wild salmon burger, before I had to head back to the airport.
The problem with the London Airport security situation was just starting to filter through as we left Vancouver, so we were virtually unaffected by the new regulations. So it was a pleasant six hour flight to Honolulu for a 2 hour stopover, then a little less enjoyable 10 hour leg to Sydney. Luckily the plane was not that full so I was able to stretch out a bit and sleep for a good deal of the way.

We made it early but because of the silly airport curfew we were forced to circle off shore for quite a while before landing. Then the aircraft was sprayed! I thought that process had been abandoned a decade ago when residual sprays were introduced.
Welcome to Sydney.....cough, cough; splutter, splutter.
You wonder what visitors must think!
Anyway I was soon through customs with my booty of Caribou Coffee, Godiva chocies and and real Canadian maple syrup.
Another adventure was over!

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