Thursday 2 February 2023

Whitehorse and Dawson City, YT

We're very excited to have just started planning a trip to the Yukon and Northwest Territories, after all it is February so time to start planning Summer adventures.  All this planning reminded me that we hadn't written up our trip to the Yukon in March 2022, so here goes!

(By the way, talking about planning for Summer adventures; BC Parks are now taking camping reservations four months out, which means you can now book out to the start of June.  If you need some suggestions of parks on Vancouver Island and the surrounding Gulf Islands check out our previous post.)

While most Canadians were travelling off to warmer climates for a break from the winter weather, us crazy Brits decided to spend March break in the Yukon, and it was amazing!

Yukon, previously known as Yukon Territory and more commonly known as 'the' Yukon, is the most westerly of the three Canadian territories and is also the smallest.

Getting There

We flew into the territorial capital, Whitehorse, from Victoria with Air North.  They fly a triangle route between Victoria, Vancouver and Whitehorse, briefly stopping in Vancouver on the way north.  Air North is a great small airline, with friendly staff, great customer service, and the best warm cookies on the flight!

Things to Do in Whitehorse

You really need a vehicle to get around the Yukon, so we picked up a rental at the airport and headed into Whitehorse for a night in the Best Western Gold Rush Inn.  The hotel was centrally located downtown, and let us explore the city and get our first close up view of the frozen solid Yukon River. 

Frozen Yukon River, Whitehorse

We had a great meal in the Miner's Daughter restaurant, which is attached to a lively bar known as the Dirty Northern. 

 The Woodcutter's Blanket is a cool micro brewery / bar / restaurant which is also worth a visit.

The next day, after a quick detour to Yukon Brewing for some essential supplies (beer, gin, and what has turned out to be Sarah's most worn hoodie!), we picked up some groceries and headed up to Sky High Wilderness Ranch.  

This adventure tourism business has been in operation for over 40 years, and was one of the highlights of our trip.  The ranch is only about 15 minutes drive from Whitehorse, but feels like it is in the middle of nowhere, and has amazing views over Fish Lake.  We spent three nights in the Aurora Cabin.  

The cabin sits alone on the ranch away from other guests so is very private and looks right down the length of the lake.  It is off-grid, so no electricity or running water, but the ranch provides plenty of fresh water in drums which you can heat on the woodstove and it has gas lights.  Bring a charging block if you need to charge up your devices, or just embrace the lack of connectivity.  Obviously there is no fridge or freezer, but they do provide a cooler which you can leave out on the deck to keep your food fresh, and icicles seemed like an appropriate addition to the Yukon Gin and tonic!  

The cabin has its own private wood fired sauna, with a huge picture window sharing the same panoramic views of the lake.  Unfortunately we didn't catch the elusive Aurora Borealis during our trip!  There is also a shower cubicle out in the sauna, and they provide a solar shower bag which you can hang in the sauna to warm up or fill from the pot on the woodstove in the cabin, so despite being off-grid you can still have a nice warm shower.

Dog Sledding in the Yukon

On our second day at the cabin we finally achieved one of our Canadian bucket list items with a dog-sledding trip.  One of the owners of Sky High is a veteran of the infamous Yukon Quest sledding race, and they have a great collection of friendly dogs who are clearly well looked after, some of the retired dogs may even come and visit you at the cabin!  

We did the 'Husky Rush' trip, which included some time meeting the dogs and learning about their care, before heading out onto Fish Lake for the sled trip.  Racing across the frozen lake is a surprisingly peaceful experience, the dogs really calm down when they are pulling, so all you hear is the swoosh of the sled rails over the snow and the occasional command from the experienced guide.  After the sled trip, we fed the dogs and headed up to the fire pit for hot chocolate, delicious local 'smokies'  (sort of like hotdogs but made from bison), s'mores, and a talk about the history of mushing.  It was a great experience and is highly recommended.

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

The next day we took a trip out to Yukon Wildlife Preserve.  The preserve has 12 Yukon species, including Bison, Musk Ox, Elk and Lynx, in over 350 acres of natural habitats, and is only a 30 minute drive from Whitehorse on Takhini Hot Springs Road (sadly the Hot Springs were closed for renovations while we were there).  

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

You can take a guided tour of the park in a minibus or walk around the 5km loop on foot, but the best way is definitely on the kick sleds if you are there in winter.

The Klondike Highway

Dragging ourselves away from Sky High was a challenge, but we had more of the Yukon to explore.  The following day we set off on the next leg of our trip, driving the 6 hours or so along the Klondike Highway 530km north to Dawson City.  The Klondike Highway is paved and was well maintained with only a few patches of ice/snow on the route.  It's worth stopping at Braeburn Lodge to pick up one of their famous (and ginormous) cinnamon buns; the lodge is also a checkpoint on the Yukon Quest.  

About 20kms north of Carmacks is the Five Finger Rapids viewpoint.  The rapids are mentioned in Jack London's 'Call of the Wild' and were one of the most dangerous sections of the Yukon River journey undertaken by gold prospectors during the Klondike Rush.  There are a series of steps down to the river, but these were not accessible in winter.

Things to Do in Dawson City

Arriving in Dawson is like arriving on the set of a Western movie; it looks and feels like a film set, until you realise that the buildings are real and still in active use as hotels, bars, shops, restaurants, and homes.
We stayed at the Downtown Hotel (which appears to have been taken over by Coast Hotels since we stayed).  The Downtown is famous as the home of the Sourtoe cocktail, which is served with a preserved human toe.  Unfortunately the hotel bar didn't allow children, so we missed out on that cultural experience!  In fact finding places that did allow children was pretty difficult in Dawson in the winter, but I'm sure would be better in the main tourist season. The Eldorado Hotel did allow kids, and we had a couple of nice meals in their Bonanza Dining Room. Bonton and Co was a really cool cafe/bar/eatery, with great small plates and charcuterie, which was also kid friendly.

While in Dawson you must take a drive (or hike if you're feeling fit) up to the Midnight Dome.  People have been gathering on this hilltop overlooking Dawson City to watch the midnight sun for hundreds of years.  Dome Road winds its way up the hill to almost the very top of the 887m hill, so it's a popular view point.

If you are lucky enough to be here at the right time, you can also cross the mighty Yukon river from Dawson City to West Dawson over the ice bridge, which is a cool experience.  There's not much in West Dawson, apart from a few off-grid cabins and a campsite, but it is the start of the Top of the World Highway which continues on to Alaska.  The George Black ferry runs a similar route once 'break-up' is over.

It's also worth a trip out to Dredge No4; a well preserved example of the mining dredges which used to ply the Yukon River in search of gold.  It was closed when we visited, so we couldn't get onboard, but was still worth the short drive up the mining road.

Dredge No4 in winter

Dawson City is also home to Robert Service and Jack London's cabins, and both are worth a visit.  Robert Service was a British immigrant to Canada; a banker by trade, he spent large periods of his life travelling Canada writing poetry and became known as the 'Bard of the Yukon' because of his poems inspired by the Klondike Goldrush.  The American author Jack London actually lived about 120kms south of Dawson, but his cabin was reconstructed here using some of the original timbers.

After two nights in Dawson, which felt like enough in the off season, we headed back down the Klondike Highway to Whitehorse.  

Our final night in the Yukon was spent in the Moose Cabin at Caribou RV Park, a cozy cabin which makes a great last stop due its proximity to the airport.  They also provide a lovely hamper of Yukon goods, on request, which we actually picked up early and took up to Sky High.

The Spell of the Yukon

We were definitely taken in by the 'Spell of the Yukon', and can't wait to go back this summer.

Friday 13 January 2023

Ucluelet and Tofino

We're just back from a great long weekend in Ucluelet and Tofino, with Sarah's parents.

Cox Beach, Tofino

About Tofino and Ucluelet

Ucluelet (known as Ukee - mainly because people struggle to pronounce U-clue-let) and Tofino are two small towns about 40km apart on the southern and northern ends of a peninsula on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, which border the Pacific Rim National Park.

Tofino is a world renowned surf destination, due to it's location on the west coast where waves have the opportunity to build right across the Pacific Ocean - the next landfall due West is actually Russia!  It's pretty tourist oriented, but with a great chilled out vibe as you'd expect from a surf town.  Ukee is smaller and less touristy, but also has a laid back atmosphere.  

Where to Stay in Ucluelet and Tofino

We've visited Tofino/Ukee a few times over the last 18 months, usually staying at the brilliant Surf Grove campsite, which is right on Cox Beach.  Surf Grove has amazing facilities for enjoying the beach; including surf rentals/lessons, beach side showers, beach yoga sessions, and a brand new sauna!  They have tent sites, RV sites, some RV rental units, and have just opened a pretty cool looking A-frame glamping pod.  The sunsets from Cox Beach are absolutely stunning.

This time we stayed in a beautiful cabin overlooking the beach in Ucluelet, booked through The Cabins at Terrace Beach.  'The Nest' had great views, perfect for Winter Strom Watching, and direct access to the Wild Pacific Trail.

Things to Do in Ucluelet and Tofino

The Lighthouse Loop is definitely worth a wander, it's an easy 2.6km loop with multiple view points.  We spent ages watching the sea pound into the shore, and even saw a few California Sea Lions surfing the waves.

Ukee was pretty quiet at this time of year, and one of our favourite haunts The Ucluelet Brewing Company, was actually closed for a well deserved winter break when we were there this time.  The brewery has a great patio overlooking Ukee Harbour and serves lovely Charcuterie boards, as well as beer!
Ucluelet Brewing Co
With the Ukee brewery closed, we headed up to Tofino a couple of times over the weekend.  We had another great meal at the Shed on Saturday (we also ate there last summer), and a brilliant brunch at The Schooner on Sunday.

The Tofino Brewing Co also has a great tasting room (don't forget to bring your growlers so you can take some beer home!) and is right next to the Tofino Distillery.  The distillery makes organic Vodka, Gin, and even Absinthe.  Their Old Growth Cedar gin is infused with the tips of local Red Western Cedar and is well worth a try.
About 20km south of Tofino in the Pacific Rim National Park is an amazing Rainforest Trail.  It actually consists of two loops, one on either side of the road.  Look out for the pedestrian crossing as a marker for the parking area!  Each loop is about a km long on wooden boardwalks.  The Western loop was closed for repairs this time, but is my favourite route if you don't have time for both.
Summer or Winter, Tofino and Ucluelet are well worth a visit, and I'm sure we'll be back soon!

Tuesday 3 January 2023

Happy New Year!

Hi folks, hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year.

We spent the first few days of the school holidays up at the RV, and skiing at Mount Washington. It was extremely cold (for Vancouver Island) over those few days, about -14C, and it turned out our RV batteries couldn't cope with the cold, despite being rated to -20.  The solar panels were doing a good job of charging (once we cleared the snow off), but as soon as we put any load on the batteries, they went into safe mode and gave no output.  Unfortunately that meant a dash into Courtenay to find a portable generator, so that we could keep warm!  The furnace uses propane for heat, but needs electricity to run the fan, and won't fire up without the fan running.  

We found a Champion generator in Canadian Tire, but we hadn't brought the shore power cable with us (as we didn't expect to need it), so also had to try a number of places to get a cable with the right connections.  Eventually we got one at Arbutus RV, who very helpfully sold us one, despite their parts department being closed - Thank You! 

Filling the new generator with fuel

At the end of the next day, after some nice skiing up at the mountain, the Land Rover decided not to start!  Despite a couple of attempts to boost the battery from some kind folks, there was no way it would start.  After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get some roadside assistance (not easy at night at the top of a mountain when there is a large snow event!), we decided to leave the car and come back the next day.  Hopping on the Mount Washington Ski bus, which took us into Courtenay, and then finding a taxi to take us back to the RV, with a quick pint at Gladstone Brewing while we waited.  

The next day a friend of ours happened to be coming up to Mount Washington for some cross country skiing, and very kindly gave me a ride back up the hill in her truck and then a tow start in the car park.  After a quick dash to the RV to pick up Sarah and the boys, we headed straight back to Victoria without daring to turn off the engine!  There's always an adventure with Team Errington...

We spent Christmas with the same great friends who rescued us, at their farm near Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island.  We had quite a bit of snow, so technically a white Christmas, but it actually rained pretty constantly on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, which put a dampner on our plans to get outdoors.  We ate lots of delicious food, played lots of games, and stayed cozy by the wood burner.

Between Christmas and New Year, we spent a few more days back up at the RV, skiing at Mount Washington, exploring Miracle Beach Provincial Park (just down the road from the trailer), and also visiting the Church Street Taphouse in Comox - highly recommended.

Sarah's parent's arrived from Edinburgh on New Year's Eve.  We had a traditional Scottish Hogmanay; much merriment, singing and dancing to Auld Lang Syne, 'First Footing' by the boys, staying up too late and waking with a hangover!  We've spent a great few days with them, including family shooting competitions with the boys' new X-shot toy guns!

Boys First Footing

They're here for a couple of weeks, and we've got a few more things planned, so stay tuned... 

Here's to a 2023 full of adventures!

Wednesday 7 December 2022

Port Renfrew

Last weekend was Ridley's Birthday, so we spent a few days over in Port Renfrew on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  It's only a couple of hours drive away from Victoria, but feels like a completely different place, and is well worth a visit.

About Port Renfrew

Port Renfrew is a small town with a population of around 150, and is the historical home of the Pacheedaht First Nation.  Known for fishing and forestry it has also developed a small tourist industry, mainly due to the wild location and the opportunities for outdoor activities, as well as the proximity to Old Growth forests.  It's known as the Tall Tree Capital of Canada!

Where to Stay in Port Renfrew

There is lots of holiday accommodation available through the usual booking sites.  We stayed in a lovely apartment overlooking the water, with a hot tub, managed by Handsome Dan's.

Port Renfrew Cabins

Things to Do in Port Renfrew

We've visited Port Renfrew a few times now, and it's one of our favourite places to visit on the island.  Here's a few suggestions on what to do if you make it out that way:

Bridgemans West Coast Eatery

This cool bar/restaurant is down by the Pacific Gateway Marina and looks over the San Juan Inlet towards the mountains.  Bridgemans is a timber framed building with large windows and a wood burning stove, and has a typical West Coast relaxed vibe.  It also serves the best smoked salmon we've ever had, the salmon is caught locally and smoked in Port Renfrew, so you can't get much shorter food miles!

Smoked Salmon at Bridgemans Port Renfrew

San Juan Inlet from Bridgemans Port Renfrew

The Renfrew Pub

Serving local craft ales and quality pub food, the pub is also worth a visit.  Only the back bar was open when we visited this time, but it looks to have lovely views out over the pier from the front deck in Summer.  We spent a fun few hours teaching the boys to play pool on the free table, while chatting with some of the locals and other visitors.

Playing pool at the Renfrew Pub
Big Lonely Doug

Big Lonely Doug is the second largest tree in Canada, about 70 metres tall and estimated to be 1000 years old.  The Douglas Fir was saved from clear cut logging in 2011 and now stands alone (hence the name!).  Doug is about a 20 minute drive from Port Renfrew up a logging road, and then about a 15 minute walk from the parking area where the road gets pretty much impassable for a normal vehicle.

Big Lonely Doug

Avatar Grove

You will pass Avatar Grove on the logging road up to Doug.  It is a protected area of Old Growth forest, and home to Canada's gnarliest tree apparently!  It's been closed for safety reasons for the whole time we've been on the island so we haven't actually been in to the grove, although there are often quite a few parked cars at the trail head, so I suspect it still gets visitors. 

Botanical Beach

This great beach is part of the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park.  It has some amazing rock/tide pool formations, many are almost perfect circles and unlike anything we have seen anywhere else. They team with sea life and look unreal at times.  Make sure you visit at low tide to see them at their best.  It's about a 20 minute walk from the car park.

Tide pools at Botanical Beach

Tide Pools at Botanical Beach

Sombrio Beach

Sombrio beach is just off the main road between Jordan River and Port Renfrew.  There are three wilderness camping areas, which have now been added to the list for next Summer.  We headed West over a cool suspension bridge and walked down to the rocky beach where we watched some brave surfers.  Turns out we should have headed East to find a beautiful 'secret' waterfall - next time!

View of Sombrio Creek

Sombrio West Beach

Sooke Oceanside Brewing

Okay, so it's not in Port Renfrew, but it's worth looking out for this small craft brewery on your way through Sooke as you're heading back to Victoria.  It has lovely ocean views, great beer, and a cool Mac 'n' Cheese food truck. 

For those of you not following us on Instagram (why aren't you?!?), here's a wee video we made of the weekend.