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Caves, Spheres and Forest: the non-ocean side of Oceanside

© By Hans Tammemagi

  I awoke, surprised to find myself inside a large sphere hanging from a tall spruce tree like a giant Christmas-tree ornament. Then it came back. The previous day the creator of the sphere, Tom Chudleigh, had escorted us deep into the forest, up a wooden stairway that spiralled up a spruce tree and across a suspended walkway into a womb-like globe named Eryn. "A sphere is a perfect shape," he explained. "It represents wholeness and offers spiritual wellness." Inside we found a snug, beautifully crafted living space with a double bed, table and kitchenette, all compact and finished with teak and mahogany like a sailboat. Large portals looked onto the forest and its wildlife inhabitants. Whether it was the calming spiritual flow or the blissful floating sensation, I enjoyed a wonderful, deep sleep.
     My wife, Allyson, and I were visiting Oceanside. The area around Parksville and Qualicum on the east coast of Vancouver Island has a well-earned reputation for its miles of sandy beaches and enchanting coves and islets. But as we discovered, Oceanside also has lush forests and rugged hills where nary a drop of salty water is to be found. Furthermore, it has the most bizarre places to overnight.
     Our first stop was Horne Lake Caves where, like miners, we donned hard hats with lamps, and escorted by a guide hiked to the mouth of Riverbend Cave, deep in a shadowy, moss-encrusted slash in the side of a hill that looked like the habitat of trolls. We clambered down a ladder into a clinging darkness pierced only by slivers of light from our lamps. Once our eyes adjusted, the guide pointed out some of the unusual formations that dripping calcite solution has created over centuries. Delicate soda straws, bacon strips, stalagmites and stalactites surrounded us covering the walls and ceilings.
     Everything was irregular, sometimes we had to climb down, sometimes up. The cave narrowed, and then widened. I felt like a tiny insect lost in the meandering arteries of an enormous stone giant. A pervading mood of dark powers, entombment and mysticism enveloped us.
     The cave floor was a tumble of rounded cobbles, the handiwork of water that rushes through in spring melts and like a surgeon's scalpel has carved the cave from solid limestone rock. In a cranny sat a rotund Buddha joined by its upside-down image glistening in a pool of water. Further along our headlamps illuminated an area coloured with a brownish tinge. "That's mud that has seeped down from an overlying clear cut," explained our guide. We shook our heads in dismay: even this remote place could not escape the heavy hand of humanity.
     Then we turned off our lamps and sat in absolute blackness. The only sound was the drip-drip-drip of water. After what seemed an eternity-actually only a few minutes-we switched on our lights, clambered upward and soon emerged, blinking, into a bright day.
     As evening approached Allyson and I became increasingly apprehensive, for we were staying in another unusual place, a yurt. Our concerns, however, were quickly allayed for our yurt, a large circular tent used in Mongolia by nomadic herdsmen, was spacious, set on a hardwood floor, comfortably furnished, and nary a goat had to be shooed out. Long spruce poles radiated from a round skylight through which, while lying in bed, we could see tall pines and firs swaying high above us. I was soon lulled into another deep sleep.
     After breakfast we departed for a hike in Englishman River Regional Park following a trail that meandered alongside the river through a Coastal Douglas Fir habitat. Our guide cut us pieces of licorice fern root to taste, pointed out hanging bunches of white Salal berries and explained how the presence of the Caddis fly is a good indicator of a river's health. "Sadly," he explained, "the Englishman River is one of the most endangered in all of British Columbia with an alarming decline in Steelhead and Coho." We stood in a shady inlet where flues and dams have been constructed to restore the salmon spawning grounds. Overhead, the drumming of a pileated woodpecker reverberated through the trees.
     With a cloudless sky and bright sun overhead, we sought out welcoming cool shade whenever possible. We rested beside Triple Falls, a set of pretty cascades that tumble over layered rock strata and form calm dark pools in which the falls and surrounding trees are mirrored. We sipped drinks and munched trail mix, as water gurgled and high overhead trees sighed in the gentle breeze.
     Our guide led us down a steep slope until we stopped, breathless, beside a lord of the forest, whose gnarled trunk seem to soar forever into the blue sky. "This is the fourth largest Sitka Spruce in the province," said the guide. "The BC Register of Big Trees lists it as 69 metres high and 6.43 metres in circumference." We stood humbled in the shade of this giant, whose limbs have sheltered birds and wildlife for over three centuries.
     At the next stop we peered into the longest raptor flight cage in North America (40 metres) and watched in awe as three eagles spread their enormous wings and cruised effortlessly from end to end. We were at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, an eight-acre hospital and rehabilitation compound for injured wildlife. As Wes Klassen, assistant manager, explained, "Six veterinarians and hundreds of volunteers help us provide medical attention to about 1000 animals and birds each year. We have countless heartwarming stories." As he spoke, Knut, a huge black bear that had been abandoned by his mother several years ago, ambled up and licked Klassen's hand through the wire-mesh fencing. Wandering from building to building we saw numerous hawks and owls elegantly perched, including one whose beak, which had been shot off, was now replaced by a prosthetic. At a pond, fuzzy little ducklings floated in small armadas and turtles sunned themselves while stacked like dominos on a log.
     Although not up to the challenge, we learned that Oceanside is also a mountain-biking Mecca. The Top Bridge Mountain Bike Park has lots of free rides, a dual slalom course, 40 acres of trails and a huge sandpit to play in. Hammerfest Race Course near Englishman River Provincial Park features multiple cross-country routes, wild downhills and has a BC Cup race course.
     We promised to return, perhaps next time we would explore the ocean side of Oceanside, for I love building sand castles and lazing in the sun. And nothing beats a good sleep.

Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. His work is often featured in Osprey and CANWEST papers. Click for Qualicum Beach, British Columbia Forecast

Photo Credits
Hans Tammemagi

If you go
This Destination
as seen on
To plan your visit: www.oceansidetourism.com
Go deep in Horne Lake Caves: www.hornelake.com
Take a hike in nature with Coastal Revelations Nature & Heritage Tours: www.coastalrevelations.com
For animals, animals, animals visit North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre: www.northislandwildliferecoverycenter.org
Seek inner peace and hang out in a Free Spirit Sphere: www.freespiritspheres.com
Stay in a yurt like a nomad: riverbendresort@shaw.ca
For gourmet dining nosh at The Landing West Coast Grill at Pacific Shores Resort:
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oceanside,_British_Columbia

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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