Once again this summer we took the trek up island to enjoy our time share unit at Pacific Shores Nature Resort near Parksville. But this year, instead of taking the Island Highway and joining the perpetual rush of traffic racing over the Malahat with a monster truck trying to kiss our rear bumper, we took the alternative route, the Mill Bay ferry. It’s an amazing difference. In contrast to the often harrowing Malahat ordeal, the Mill Bay option is a relaxing and scenic forty-five minute ferry ride across the Saanich Inlet. There’s no reservations on the MV Klitsa, our ride across the inlet, and so we arrived at the Brentwood Bay terminal forty-five minutes early. We stopped at Brentwood Bay Thrifty’s to buy our tickets – at a substantial discount. Thrifty’s at Broadmead and at Mill Bay also sell tickets.
Seahorse Cafe, Brentwood Bay
At the Brentwood ferry terminal, we got out to stretch our legs. The delicious aroma of bacon and coffee beckoned from The Seahorse restaurant. It’s right on the pier just steps away from the ferry ramp. We were soon enjoying Level Ground Trading coffee and fresh pastries. Level Ground is a local company and their coffee is excellent. If you have extra time, the Seahorse also rents kayaks.
The MV Klitsa is one of the smaller ferries in the BC Ferries fleet, taking about 30 vehicles on the forty minute ride. There are a dozen or so walk-on passengers and a few cyclists as well. I’ve taken this route by bicycle a few years ago. It sure beats the Malahat. The ferry workers are friendly pair, chatting it up with the passengers. It’s a sunny day, and the crossing provides beautiful views. As we pass scenic Senanus Island, I recall the many SCUBA dives I’ve made in the inlet. The marine life is considerably diminished from what it was years ago, development and over fishing taking their tolls. There’s a proposal for an LNG terminal in the inlet, but it’s meeting stiff opposition. Fortunately, Senanus Island is part of the Tsartlip First Nation territory. An ancient burial ground, it’s considered sacred and will remain undeveloped.
Senanus Island. View from the MV Klitsa
We arrived at Mill Bay feeling relaxed and unharried. We joined the Island Highway rat race – but only as far as the town of Chemainus. Time for lunch and to enjoy the murals. Chemainus bills itself as ‘the village of murals’. They’re on walls everywhere, reflecting the history of the area. We discovered the Utopia Bakery Café, a block off the main street. It offers fresh breads, cakes, and pasteries and serves breakfast and lunch. Prices very reasonable. I had a bowl of delicious cream of mushroom soup. It was meal in itself. It’s always a good sign when locals show up, and several came for lunch while we were enjoying ours. When tourism drops off during the winter months, locals are the mainstay so the food has to be good and reasonably priced. The Utopia scores high on both counts. The Utopia has a unique three dimensional mural that depicts a First Nations scene before the arrival of European traders and colonists.
3 Dimensional mural at the Utopia Cafe
Goodies at the Utopia
After lunch and a leisurely stroll down Chemainus’ picturesque main street, we continued our trip to Parksville. Instead of taking Highway 1, the ‘new’ island highway, we took 1A, the original island highway. This route hugs the coast and offers stunning ocean views. Highway 1a joins highway 1 just before Ladysmith.
Next Post: Pacific Shores nature Resort and the Parksville area.
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