When you live on an island that is known for its adventure, natural beauty and tourism, you learn to become a tour guide when friends and family visit. I am always more than happy to accommodate my local “tour” based on what my guests are interested in. I was beyond excited when a special guest, returning for the second time, emailed me about her summer plans to visit Canada, specifically the Vancouver area and Vancouver Island. This meant I could create a personalized tour of our favorite places to adventure knowing the special guest would fit in perfectly.
My family and I first met Anna (name changed for reading ease) in January 2013. Anna, 14 years old at the time, who is from Germany, was on a 3 month student exchange program in Vancouver, BC. She is also a distant cousin on my husband’s side and thanks to my mother in law and Anna’s grandmother for keeping in touch over the years, we were volunteered to have Anna spend a weekend with us. We agreed. I will admit I had no idea what to expect from a 14 year old German girl, who we knew nothing about. What I can say about her now is she blew us all away with her maturity, intelligence, innocence, and bravery. In the few short days that we spent with Anna back in 2013, we experienced wonderful adventures together that allowed us to break down the language and country barriers. I felt my passion for places already explored reignite just by watching Anna’s face light up as she stood on the edge of the North American continent and looked out on the open Pacific Ocean for the first time.
We took her deep down into a cave and Ben and Liv had a chance to show Anna the nooks and crannies they love so much. The best was watching Anna’s expressions and complete disbelief that Joel was making soup with our backpacking stove as we sat in an ancient giant forest. I know exactly what it is like to experience these feelings all for the first time and it is every bit as powerful watching someone else experience it as well.
Anna is now a 16 year old young lady. She is very much like the last time we visited but much more outgoing and confident. I still am in awe at her knowledge of history, politics and culture and am pretty sure I learned more from her visit than she did. One thing is for sure, we had great adventures! This time I wanted to show Anna how diverse nature and the natural spaces are on Vancouver Island, aside from the usual coastal scenery and orca watching. The three day "personalized" tour for Anna, "Raptor, River, Hike and Paddle", involved swimming in all three different sources of water on Vancouver Island, up-close encounters with raptors and other flying creatures, an alpine hike with a mountain view to finish, and another first time experience for her – kayaking.
First up was Raptors. Many raptors call Vancouver Island home and there is a great facility near Duncan, BC called the The Pacific Northwest Raptor Centre, a birds of prey attraction that educates and allows visitors to discover eagles, hawks, owls, falcons, and vultures through flight demonstrations, personal interaction, and educational courses. I have visited the Raptor Centre before, with Ben and Liv, and have been itching to take someone there. Anna was the obvious choice and to make it even more special, we did a Hawk Walk and had an opportunity to get real close to Anakin, a Harris Hawk. I highly recommend visiting the Raptor Centre, if ever the chance.
Part of our regular summer schedule on Vancouver Island is beating the heat with water while avoiding the crowded beaches. For us, the Nanaimo River is the place to go. Unless you’re a local, not many know about the different spots along the river that are perfect for those lazy days of summer. The scenery is spectacular, water cool, crisp, and fresh, and often are quiet places to escape to. After our morning with the raptors, we headed to our favorite swimming hole on the Nanaimo River for a late afternoon/supper swim. She and the kids had fun swimming, catching crayfish, and floating down the mini rapids. For Anna, this was special. There are no rivers in Germany for her to swim in and the lakes are so cold that it usually is a quick in and out swim.
Originally I had wanted to take Anna on a backpack trip. Unfortunately the timing did not work out (next time). Instead, I took her hiking in Strathcona Park, to Lake Helen McKenzie, where she could see what some of our back-country camp sites look like. This short loop is a great day hike and offers guests with plenty of flora, fauna, and vistas. It offers a bit of everything if time is not on your side. A day hike here gave Anna another swimming experience, in Battleship Lake, an alpine hike with types of trees she had not seen before and some more encounters of the friendly flying kind. Bonus was a helicopter encounter, a quick chairlift ride up Mt. Washington, and an opportunity to build an Inuksuk. Does not get any more Canadian than that!
On Anna's last visit, we took her caving, which was a first for her. This time I wanted to give her that same experience and was happy to hear that she had never kayaked before. As if routine, Anna, Ben, Liv and I packed up for the day and headed to Ladysmith Harbour and went to see my friends at Sealegs Kayaking. The Ladysmith Harbour is a great place to take first time kayakers. The water is usually calm and there is plenty of ocean to explore.
Anna was a pro in the kayak and again I got to watch her face light up as she enjoyed the beautiful setting we were in. Together we all marveled at the ocean's bottom when it came into sight, we paddled towards cormorants, came across a huge jelly fish, and on shore we flipped rocks over in search of shorecrabs. We ended our ocean adventure with a quick swim marking Anna’s first ocean swim!
I know Anna had an amazing outdoor experience with us. The truth is, I did too! I love showing off Vancouver Island and taking people to unique locations outside of the regular tourist hotspots. Places that are routine for me to explore become new again and like I mentioned before, watching someone fall in love with Vancouver Island is every bit as special as falling in love with it myself. Next year the roles will be reversed when we visit Anna in Germany. I can’t wait to fall in love with Germany!
ps - When I grow up, I want to be an outdoor adventure tour guide.