Every time Ruth and I go to Vancouver Island we find a reason to go back. On our way to Tofino, our favorite Vancouver Island destination, one snowy winter day, we drove Highway One as far north as Parksville. Previous to that on our way to Buttle Lake, we had been to Campbell River, where super highway ends. We had never been north of this thriving city until June, 2015.
The journey from Victoria to Port Hardy, only 311 miles, took longer than I expected. The first half, Highway One, was a super road, but it passed either through or close to a series of fairly big towns, 8 of them. At Campbell River, the highway number changed to 19 and the road became far less super as human development pretty much ended. There were only 4 towns with limited services for almost 148 miles. This led to the Carrot War.
Highway 19 to Port Hardy, where all paved roads pretty much cease, is definitely worth driving. It’s one of those scenic routes with unending forest, mountain views, and signs that warn about elk crossing the road. But if you run into trouble, you’re alone. I talked to a lady who moved to Campbell River from Port Hardy because she couldn’t take the isolation any longer. However, Ruth talked to a man in Port Hardy who said he had located there to get away from people.
We’ll probably drive 19 again in 2016 because we learned that there’s a ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola and Prince Rupert, where a super highway takes travelers to central British Columbia. This ferry, which gets rave reviews from inside passage lovers, takes all day, arriving at 11:30 pm.
Port Hardy is THE place for anyone who loves fishing. I just watched a YouTube video of guys hauling salmon and halibut out of the water there one after another. We were told that Port Hardy is the 2nd biggest commercial fishing port on Vancouver Island. Ironically, it’s not a place to enjoy the bounty of seafood in local restaurants. Most of what’s caught ends up in big cities further south. It’s the largest commercial port for ground fish, also called bottom feeders, like lingcod. Prawns too are in abundance. So are ocean dwellers at the other end of the size scale. Whale watching is a major attraction.
The lack of good seafood in restaurants wasn’t my only Port Hardy surprise. It has very mild winters. The average temperature is 45º Fahrenheit and cold water surfing is popular. Sports enthusiasts can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon at Mount Cain, which is said to have Vancouver Island’s best powder.
There’s a monument to the Carrot War in a park near Port Hardy’s port. Promises to turn Highway 19 into a major road that would bring development to the northern half of Vancouver Island have been dangled before residents for many years. In the late 1970s a serious campaign erupted to force those in charge of highway improvement to keep their promises. The only result, so far, has been a giant wooden carrot.